Shell, Virent announce biogasoline demo plant

By Lisa Gibson
Posted March 23, 2010, at 12:46 p.m. CST

The world's first biogasoline demonstration plant is up and running in Madison, Wis., with the capacity to produce 10,000 gallons per year from plant sugars.

The facility, dubbed Eagle, is the latest milestone in a joint research and development effort between Virent Energy Systems Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell plc that aims to commercialize biogasoline production from Virent's Bioforming platform technology.

"The demonstration plant was delivered on time, on budget and without injury, producing on-spec biogasoline and frankly, it's performing better than planned," said Lee Edwards, Virent CEO, during a conference call March 23. "This is an important milestone for Virent as we progress plans toward commercialization." The process is similar to a standard oil refinery converting crude oil to transportation fuels, but Eagle uses sugars from various biomass sources to produce the same hydrocarbon mixtures used in standard transportation fuels, according to Randy Cortright, Virent Founder and chief technical officer. Those sugars can be sourced from corn stover, sugarcane pulp, wheat and corn, but Eagle's feedstock has come from beet sugar, according to Virent. The companies declined to release a cost estimate of the plant.

"This demonstration for Virent has shown the growth of our company," Cortright said. "We will be able to collect information and collect the expertise to build a commercial-size plant that will be able to generate transportation fuels." This year, Virent and Shell will focus on engineering, design and implementation plans, using Eagle's success. Volumes produced at the plant, which is 100 percent bigger than Virent's lab-scale operations, will be used for engine testing and fleet testing, as well as in engineering and commercial analyses going forward.

"We are looking with Virent into how we can scale up this technology," said Luis Scoffone, vice president of alternative energies for Shell. The most important factor is that Eagle, sited at Virent's Madison facilities, demonstrates the processes' scalability, he added, noting that feedstock and location are important elements in the commercialization equation.

Edwards said a timeline for a commercial facility has not been established, but it will need to be clearly defined within the next five years. "We have many milestones still to deliver going forward," he said. "It's important during 2010 that we learn as much as we can while we complete the fleet testing schedule for this year."