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Another ABFA Success Story: Virent Replaces Crude Oil With Renewable Resources  

Friday, January 31, 2014

We typically focus on clean transportation fuel here at ABFA. But, the innovative technologies employed by our members also can create a wide range of low-carbon products traditionally produced from oil. These next-generation sustainable products and flexible biofuel feedstocks are equally critical to America’s low-carbon transition.

The next installment of ABFA’s ongoing video series illustrates that fact.  Today, we profile Virent, a Madison, Wisconsin-based company whose proven and tested technologies have the potential to replace over 90% of the products that have always required crude oil – until now.

We spoke with Lee Edwards, President and CEO of Virent, about the potential for “drop-in” products chemically identical to those based on crude oil and ready to work in today’s chemical and fuel supply chains. “We make direct replacement fuels in all three transportation fuels: diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline,” said Edwards. “We also make chemicals for renewable packaging.”

The flexibility of Virent’s product line has generated investments and partnerships from global corporate leaders. Shell, Cargill, Honda, and Coca-Cola have provided funding, capability, and support as Virent moves to market. In fact, Shell has included Virent technology in an integrated pilot plant in Houston, and Coca-Cola is providing development funding and establishing a supply framework to support scale-up of Virent’s plant-based Paraxylene to make 100% renewable, 100% renewable recyclable packaging.

Virent’s feedstock-flexible and robust catalytic processes can be optimized to fit customer needs and accommodate a wide variety of cellulosic and conventional plant sugars and alcohols to produce hydrocarbon molecules for a myriad direct replacement products.

But even more promising, Virent’s products are tested and proven in real-life conditions. The company’s bio-gasoline has been used in competition by the Ferrari F1 team and has completed no-harm fleet testing with Shell. Virent’s bio-jet fuel is taking flight, with certification efforts underway at the FAA and ATSM, and 100 gallons delivered to the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in 2013. The company has also produced over 100 gallons of direct replacement diesel, and has successfully converted its BioFormPX® product into a final 100% renewable, 100% recyclable Coca-Cola PlantBottle®.

So, what’s the outcome of all these nascent technologies? They are garnering third-party recognition and advancing toward commercial scale. Virent’s technology has won EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award and the ICIS Chemical Innovation Award twice, as well as $20 million in federal grants to convert cellulosic feedstock into sustainable fuels and chemicals – all significant stepping-stones to commercialization.  Leveraging these achievements to progress the BioForming® platform, Virent is focused on delivery of commercial volumes to the marketplace as quickly as possible.

“At the end of the decade I think you will see at least twenty world-scale plants under construction, with plans for at least twenty more,” said Edwards. “We’re going to go through this inflection point and you’re going to start to see more capital, more scale, and more materiality in the energy mix.”

But this potential comes with one important caveat – steady policy from Washington, D.C. “Don’t buckle your knees when the pressure gets tough,” said Edwards. “Adding uncertainty with policy right now would slow down our progress and take longer to deploy some of the technologies that are available today to commercialize.”

You can watch Edwards’ full interview video above or check out ABFA’s video center for previous member profiles. Make sure to stay tuned to this blog for additional perspectives from the companies leading America’s transition to a renewable fuels future.

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