As bad as oil is for the environment, the energy potential is unlike any other substance on earth. Coming up with a replacement energy source won’t be easy, but Virent and Royal Dutch Shell have created a biofuel with a molecular composition similar to petroleum, but made from common biofuel feedstocks like sugar and biomass.
The biogasoline has just passed its first road test, fueling five late-model European cars. An identical vehicle running on gasoline was used as a control for the experiment, and both cars running the different fuels were driven for6,000 milesbefore the engines were disassembled and inspected.
The result was that all the engines, regardless of whether they ran gasoline or biogas, were in the same condition. Virent’s patented BioForming process uses a low-temperature process that can produce hydrocarbon fuels from plant matter. What makes Virent’s process different is their Aqueous Phase Reforming technology, which can generate hydrogen without needing high-temperature steam. This keeps the process at a relatively-cool 180-260 degrees C/350-500 degrees F, significantly lowering the power demands of the fuel processing.
APR also allows Virent to produce biofuels of various octanes and alkanes. So you can have regular road car fuel, high-octane racing fuel, even higher octane jet fuel, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, a biodiesel. Whether or not the emissions output is the same as gasoline, they don’t say…but getting fuel from biomass would mean, at the very least, we could worry less about “running out” of oil as global demand surges. It would also breathe new life into the internal combustion engine.
This is far from a done deal though. Right now a three-year pilot project is in the works that includes a pilot plant, lifecycle study, and detailed design and engineering reports. In other words, don’t like for Virent biogas anytime soon.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.