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May 31, 2007


Chevron, Texas A&M Will Research Biofuels

Partnership seeks conversion of nonfood crops into renewable transportation fuel

Glenn Hess

Chevron has entered an agreement with Texas A&M University to study ways of producing and converting specially grown nonfood crops into ethanol and other biofuels.

During a four-year period, Chevron says it will support research by Texas A&M into crops dedicated for producing cellulose and processes for converting the biomass into biofuels.

In the U.S., most ethanol is currently produced from corn. Biofuels could be made from cellulose, a carbohydrate that is found in the stems, stalks, and leaves of green plants. But a number of barriers must be overcome.

One of the primary technical and scientific challenges of making biofuels from cellulose is designing a low-cost method for breaking down cellulose, which is bound in the plant cell wall, into its sugar building blocks. These sugars can be fermented into ethanol or other biofuels.

"Cellulosic ethanol, as opposed to sugar or starch-based ethanol, broadens the choice of feedstock without impacting food supplies," says Rick Zalesky, vice president of biofuels and hydrogen for Chevron Technology Ventures.

"Making it commercially viable poses a number of scientific and technical challenges, challenges that we believe the faculty, staff, and students at one of the world???s premier universities in agricultural sciences and engineering are well-equipped to overcome," Zalesky adds.

Financial details of the partnership between Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA, and Texas A&M???s Agriculture & Engineering BioEnergy Alliance were not disclosed.

In addition to the Texas A&M agreement, Chevron???s biofuels business unit has formed research arrangements with Georgia Tech; the University of California, Davis; and the Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, which is a consortium of the Energy Department???s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, three major Colorado universities, and other private companies.

In a related development, Chevron says its large-scale biodiesel plant in Galveston, Texas, is fully operational (C&EN, May 22, 2006, page 19). The facility will initially produce 20 million gal of biodiesel per year and has the capability to expand operations to produce up to 110 million gal annually.

Chevron Technology Ventures has a 22% equity position in the plant. It will produce biodiesel from soybeans and other renewable feedstocks for use in the marine, commercial, trucking, and industrial markets.

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