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Shell Outline Plans for Advanced Biofuel Production from Crop Waste

16 April 2012

GLOBAL - Petroleum giants Shell have outlined their commitment to advanced biofuels made from crop residues and wastes in their latest sustainability report, published last week.

In the report Peter Voser, Chief Executive Officer of Shell, said: "In the decades to come, major economies will continue to consume energy to grow. In developing countries many people will become wealthier, buying their first television, refrigerator or car. In short, the world will need more energy."

"Fossil fuels will still provide the bulk of this energy with, we believe, a greater role to play for cleaner-burning natural gas. Renewable energy, including low-carbon biofuels for transport, will also increase steadily," he added.

Shell believe electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be an important way of delivering sustainable transport in the longer term. But in the coming decades most vehicles will continue to run on petrol and diesel. Blending sustainable biofuels with petrol and diesel offers the most commercially viable way to reduce CO2 emissions from road transport fuels over the next 20 years, said the company.

The increasing role of biofuels in transport fuel

Biofuels are expected to play an increasing role in helping to meet demand for transport fuel. Shell predicts that their share of the global transport fuel mix will increase from 3 per cent today to 9 per cent by 2030. Shell are already one of the world’s largest biofuels distributors, blending around 7.4 billion litres of biofuels with petrol and diesel in 2011.

Since 2011, Shell has been producing biofuels with Cosan through their Raízen joint venture in Brazil, which is making bioethanol from sugar cane. Shell say that this process produces the lowest-carbon commercially available biofuel at present.

This biofuel reduces CO2 emissions by around 70 per cent compared to petrol and process efficiency is improved further by burning the plant waste to make electricity. The company also said 96 per cent of the biofuel they produced in 2011 met either internationally certified sustainability schemes or their own equivalent sustainability clauses.

But what is most interesting about the report is the weight and finance Shell have put behind developing advanced biofuels. Shell revealed that they are developing advanced biofuels from inedible plants and crop waste with a number of major companies and academic institutions.

Shell commits to advanced biofuels

With Canadian firm Iogen Energy, Shell are developing technology that uses enzymes to break down the cellulose in feedstocks like wheat and barley straw.

The cellulose is converted to sugars which are then fermented and distilled into ethanol. Iogen Energy has a demonstration plant in Ottawa and continues to look into potential sites for a commercial plant in Canada.

But Shell aren't content with using standard enzymes, they are making a new generation of 'super-enzymes' with Codexis in the US which they hope will dramatically speed up the conversion of biomass to ethanol.

The company also has a joint-technology development programme with US company Virent to convert plant sugars and inedible biomass directly into a range of fuels.

A Virent demonstration plant that opened in Wisconsin, USA, in 2010 is the world’s first facility to convert plant sugars directly into a petrol-like drop-in biofuel. Virent is also researching the production of diesel and jet fuel made this way.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

April 2012

TheCropSite News Desk

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