Biorefining Gets a Boost

Combined process handles many feeds and makes a variety of products

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Preliminary economic analysis by Virent suggests that converting sugars to conventional liquid fuels with BioForming is economically competitive with petroleum at crude oil prices higher than $60/bbl.

Figure 2 -- Lab-scale units: Work is underway on scaling up the process.
Source: Virent.

Virent currently is running a number of lab-scale units, each capable of producing 0.5–1 gallon/day of gasoline (Figure 2). The company now is working with Shell on the detailed design for a larger-scale unit capable of making 25–40 gallons/day of gasoline.

“It’s a totally scalable process. The chemistry works and a lot of our focus is currently on improving catalyst lifetime to improve overall process economics,” says Virent marketing director Mary Blanchard. “Hopefully within the next five to six years we will have a demonstration plant capable of 10 million gallons/year, maybe even 100 million gallons/year. In terms of commercialization, once we have proved the first larger-scale plant, they should really proliferate. While Shell has licensed the technology, we also have the rights to use it in our own plants,” she adds.

Virent currently owns or holds the exclusive rights to 58 pending or issued patents; 17 in the U.S. and 41 elsewhere.

Much of the company’s work has benefited from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research award, a point not lost on Cortright. “The early support of NSF helped lay the groundwork for our technical, and subsequent industrial, successes,” he says. “Our scientists now have years of expertise with our BioForming process and are rapidly moving the technology to commercial scale. We are quickly working to put our renewable, green gasoline and other hydrocarbon biofuels in fuel tanks all over the world.”
 “The technology developed by Virent is extremely promising, and has been refined over the last six years. The aqueous phase reforming process… is an innovative approach that may yield an important, positive impact on the energy demands of the U.S. and worldwide,” adds Rose Wesson, the NSF program officer who oversaw the grant.

For more on developments in bio-based technology, see our October cover story “Renewable Feedstocks are in the Bag” (www.ChemicalProcessing.com/articles/2008/180.html).
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