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Shell gets into sugary biofuels with Virent

shell.jpgAs a youth, Greenbang and Greenbang’s fellow school mates would spend countless minutes (hey, we had short attention spans) turning our calculators upside down and trying to spell out words on the display using the inverted numbers. We managed the greetings ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ as well as the biologically puzzling ‘boobless’. We also managed ‘shell oil’.

These days of course calculator wielding terrors would have to spell out spell out ‘shell biofuels’, after the oil giant teamed with Virent Energy Systems to create a joint venture charged with “converting plant sugars directly into gasoline and gasoline blend components, rather than ethanol”.

Apparently, not only will the fuel appeal to ants with its sugary goodness, it will be able to be used at high blend rates with normal fuels so engines wouldn’t have to be reengineered.

So how does it work? Shell says like this:

Virent’s BioForming platform technology uses catalysts to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules like those produced at a petroleum refinery. Traditionally, sugars have been fermented into ethanol and distilled. These new ‘biogasoline’ molecules have higher energy content than ethanol (or butanol) and deliver better fuel efficiency. They can be blended seamlessly to make conventional gasoline or combined with gasoline containing ethanol.

The sugars can be sourced from non-food sources like corn stover, switch grass, wheat straw and sugarcane pulp, in addition to conventional biofuel feedstock like wheat, corn and sugarcane.

The companies have so far collaborated for one year on the research. The BioForming(TM) technology has advanced rapidly, exceeding milestones for yield, product composition, and cost. Future efforts will focus on further improving the technology and scaling it up for larger volume commercial production.

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