Chevron, Weyerhaeuser form joint venture

By Hope Deutscher
Web exclusive posted Feb. 29, 2008, at 3:35 p.m. CST

Chevron Corp. and Weyerhaeuser Co. today announced the creation of a 50-50 joint venture company focused on developing the next generation of renewable transportation fuels from nonfood sources.

Chevron is one of the world's leading integrated energy companies, and Weyerhaeuser is one of the world's largest integrated forest products companies.

The joint venture Catchlight Energy LLC, which is the first step in an alliance announced last year by the companies, will research and develop technology for converting cellulose-based biomass into economical, low-carbon cellulosic ethanol.

Bruce Amundson, spokesman for Weyerhaeuser, said Catchlight will initially look at switchgrass as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol, rather than wood. "We have 6 million acres of land in the United States, which can be used to grow biomass that could be used in fuel," he said. "What we're going to do is introduce switchgrass into some of our southern timberlands." The timberlands are grown in a plantation style on flat ground, which will allow grass to grown between the trees, where there is sunlight. "So they're ideal for some sort of intercropping type of application," he said. "[Switchgrass] is much more sustainable in the long range, providing the biomass needed. The grass grows very quickly. It can be harvested on an annual basis or perhaps even sooner as opposed to a tree that you won't be able to do anything with for years."

Amundson points out that although trees are used for solid wood applications such as lumber, there is a future potential for wood-fiber-based materials, such as paper and boxes, to be used to make fuel.

Chevron and Weyerhaeuser will contribute funding, technology and employees to Catchlight Energy and its research endeavors. "Catchlight Energy brings together two leaders in their industries and leverages their strengths- from feedstocks to fuel manufacturing to marketing-to create a sustainable, economic, nonfood biofuels business at a commercial scale," said Mike Wirth, executive vice president of global downstream for Chevron.

Michael Burnside, who has a 33-year career with Chevron, has been appointed chief executive officer of Catchlight. W. Densmore Hunter, who has been with Weyerhaeuser since 1980, has been named Catchlight's chief technology officer. Hunter currently leads the company's biofuels and bioproducts research and development efforts.

Chevron and Weyerhaeuser acknowledge that a lot of research still needs to be done. "Both companies said they feel that there is an opportunity here, that it's worth exploring, that it's worth devoting the resources-both people and money-to pursue," Amundson said. "We definitely see some opportunities, but it is way too early to say right now when there might be an end-product out there."