Companies collaborate on biogasoline production

By Kris Bevill
Wisconsin-based Virent Energy Systems Inc. and international petroleum giant Shell Group have completed the first year of a five-year joint research project to develop "biogasoline." The companies have been working to convert plant sugars directly into biogasoline and biogasoline blends using Virent's aqueous-phase reforming process, trademarked BioForming, and are on track to produce the fuel at a commercial scale by 2010.

Virent's process involves using a solid-state catalyst to convert a variety of process sugars into hydrocarbons. According to Virent President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Apfelbach, the BioForming process is a low-temperature technology and is scaleable to fit in an economic feedstock radius. The process allows a wide range of feedstocks to be used and is water-positive. Perhaps the most significant benefit of all is that the biogasoline will be compatible with existing gasoline infrastructures. "We really think we're out to a lead here, and we think we can maintain that lead," Apfelbach said. "With partners like Honda, Shell and Cargill, we have everything we need to expand this on a global scale.

We've got customers that will buy 1 billion gallons of this fuel tomorrow if we can make it today. So we've really got to get that job done and give them a billion gallons."
Apfelbach said milestones set for the project have been exceeded up to this point, and work will now begin on producing biogasoline at a commercial scale. He projects Virent will be

operating a 2,600-gallon demonstration facility by 2010. The facility's location is yet to be determined and will depend on the location of cheap feedstock, as well as what is determined to be the best strategic way to enter the gasoline market, Apfelbach said.

Most of the work is being done by Virent researchers at the company's 30,000-square-foot catalytic biorefinery in Madison, Wis. Shell plays a supporting role in the program, and will continue to supply knowledge on catalytic processing and verify that the product will be completely interchangeable with conventional gasoline infrastructures.