Virent Energy Producing Gasoline From Raw Plant Material – Update

It’s almost been a year since Virent Energy partnered up with Shell to advance their biogasoline synthesis technology, known as bioforming.

I’ve been curious about their progress, and recently listened to a lecture given at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by Virent researcher Paul Blommel on the bioforming process.

During bioforming, sugars and polymers are rearranged into alkanes (biogasoline) that can be used for fuel in combustion engines. The gasoline produced is of a higher volatility and better production efficiency than corn ethanol.


Virent is still in the developmental stages of gasoline production. Their patented aqueous phase reforming (APR) technology and BioForming process is currently producing a liter per day of pure gasoline from plant material. For now they are mainly using simple sugars found in plants, but plan to tap into the more woody lignocellulose too.

After the lecture, I had a chance to talk with Blommel in depth. Read more of that conversation after the jump.

“We compare ourselves to ethanol, but that’s just because ethanol is the status quo,” said Blommel. He also spoke briefly on how Virent is optimistic for the future of biofuels in America. When asked about how the stimulus bill would help them out he replied, “We haven’t seen any of the details of the legislation, how it will play out. We certainly welcome any sort of carbon cap and trade program or carbon tax. These would have a positive impact on us.”

“In the past legislation was written with ethanol in mind,” Blommel said of the political climate towards the biofuel industry. “[The legislation] wasn’t broadly written to include other commercial biofuels. The way those were written would hurt us.”

Virent is looking to expand its operation sometime in the near future. The plan is to scale up the BioForming process to 10,000 liters per day of biomass derived gasoline, kerosine, and jet fuel from one plant alone.

During the gas price hike over the summer, Virent experienced a higher level of public curiosity. “There certainly was more interest from the general public. Our investors have been fairly even keel through this whole thing, not getting too excited during that time, and continuing to support us even though crude oil prices have dropped.”

Earlier this week President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill. The bill has sanctioned $38 billion for the energy sector, with $20 billion in tax incentives. Virent is hoping their innovation will help secure a significant chunk of that as they begin to look into the commercial market.

Source: Cnet

Photo Credit: Virent Energy

Other interesting articles:

Shell, Virent to Develop Second Generation BioGasoline

The Destructive Center (The New York Times)

A special thanks to Paul Blommel and Chris Arena.

Anthony Cefali

Anthony is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in biology as well as English. He became interested in the biofuel initiative after getting a job in the Raines Lab of Petroleum Alternatives at the university turning sugars into biofuels. He is the first to admit that he doesn't fully understand everything that he does or is trying to do, but enjoys doing his bit to help the environment. Anthony has very few plans for his future, but is interested in how natural systems work and how urban development changes these systems. On a good day, Anthony enjoys riding his bike really far away and reading Kurt Vonnegut books.