Biogasoline: The Greener Alternative to Ethanol?

randy cortright
Why bother with corn ethanol - heck, even cellulosic ethanol - when biogasoline will do in a pinch? Wisconsin-based Virent Energy Systems, whose liquid biofuel-powered hydrogen generator we covered a few years back, is collaborating with Royal Dutch Shell on a new venture to develop biogasoline, a hydrocarbon alternative that, unlike ethanol, could take advantage of the existing gas infrastructure.

This new project would be centered around Virent's innovative BioForming technology, which uses a solid-state catalyst to turn plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules suitable for use in standard engines; biogasoline's main advantage would therefore be to eliminate the need for specialized infrastructure, blending technologies or new engine designs. To produce ethanol, plant sugars first have to be fermented and then distilled - a lengthier, costlier process.Eric Apfelbach, the company's chief executive, told Cleantech's David Ehrlich that the BioForming technology would be able to "use whatever the cheapest, most available sugar stream is in that area . . . anything that's a carbohydrate that can be made soluble in water is a candidate feedstock." That would also encompass a wide range of non-food crops: corn stover, switch grass and wheat straw - just to name a few.

Moreover, Apfelbach stressed that Virent's biogasoline has a higher energy content that ethanol, and that it would deliver superior fuel efficiency. Virent's pilot plants are currently able to produce only a gallon of biogasoline a day; its engineers hope to demonstrate a commercial-size plant able to produce around 10,000 liters within the next few years. A quick perusal of the company's website didn't reveal much in terms of BioForming's emissions impact - as you'll recall, the ethanol production process has often been criticized for burning more fossil fuels than ethanol helps displace.

As with most similar technologies - other recent examples include Bay Area-based LS9 and Amyris - Virent's success will depend on the speed with which it can upscale the production process and bring its biogasoline to the mass market. While promising, Virent's technology still has a ways to go before it's ready for prime-time.

Via ::Cleantech: Virent's biogasoline gets Big Oil backing (blog), ::The Capital Times: Virent, Shell extend pact (newspaper)

See also: ::Virent Energy Systems: Liquid Biofuel Fed Hydrogen Generator, ::Lots Of Ethanol, And More on the Way

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