Biofuels are fuels made from recently living organisms. They can be divided into three categories:
- First-generation biofuels are made largely from edible sugars and starches.
- Second-generation biofuels are made from nonedible plant materials.
- Third-generation biofuels are made from algae and other microbes.
Chevron is active in all three biofuel categories. We are a major buyer and blender of first-generation biofuels, primarily ethanol. Almost all of the gasoline Chevron sells in the United States contains ethanol.
We also conduct research on second- and third-generation biofuels, which we refer to as "advanced biofuels." Advanced biofuels could play an important role in diversifying the world's energy supplies and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
What Are the Benefits?
Biofuels are renewable, meaning their sources can be regrown. Advanced biofuels can offer environmental benefits such as lower carbon emissions and lower sulfur compared with first-generation biofuels and conventional petroleum-based fuels.
Chevron believes that advanced biofuels could help meet the world's future energy needs. That's why we are working on developing solutions in the following areas:
- Scalability – Tens of millions of tons of biomass are required annually to produce enough fuel to make a difference, given the global demand for energy.
- Sustainability – Environmental and socioeconomic issues of land and biomass use must be understood, from the effects of growing and harvesting biomass to the production and use of biofuels.
- Cost – The costs of cultivating, harvesting and transporting biomass must be driven down, and large-scale production must be economical. To enable rapid market acceptance, advanced biofuels must be compatible with existing infrastructure and vehicles.
- Policy – Policymakers must set realistic goals that establish a level playing field so there is enough time for technology to advance and for the marketplace to choose winners and losers.
Chevron believes that through technological innovation, productive public dialogue and the collaboration of industry, governments and the scientific community, we can develop solutions in these areas, and advanced biofuels can play a role in meeting the world's increasing demand for energy.
What Chevron Is Doing
- Identifying and developing ideal biomass feedstocks that are sustainable and scalable. Chevron is assessing the potential of a number of feedstocks in two categories—lignocellulosics and lipids. Lignocellulosics include forest-based plants, agricultural byproducts and purpose-grown energy crops, such as switchgrass. Lipids can be produced from algae and other microbes, as well as extracted from nonedible oilseed-bearing plants, such as camelina and jatropha.
- Identifying and testing technologies for converting biomass into biofuels. Chevron is evaluating a variety of technologies for manufacturing biofuels. Finding the best option is time-consuming because technology that works in the laboratory often cannot be successfully scaled to economic commercial production.
- Developing finished fuels that meet consumer expectations.. The final product must be compatible with existing vehicles.
Chevron is especially interested in "green crude"—biomass-based fuels with a chemical composition similar to crude oil and biohydrocarbons. Biohydrocarbons are biomass-based finished products that are chemically identical to their petroleum-based cousins. Because they are similar to products made from crude oil, they require no special infrastructure or vehicles to be shipped, stored, processed, blended or used. And they are compatible with current engine technology.
Chevron experts work with a number of industrial and commercial research partners to further our knowledge of biofuels. Our efforts are coordinated by our Chevron Technology Ventures business unit. Catchlight Energy, our 50-50 joint venture with Weyerhaeuser Company, is working to commercialize advanced biofuels made from forest-based biomass.
There is no such thing as a perfect fuel. All energy sources feature a number of benefits, risks and trade-offs. The world will need every available form of energy that can be produced in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner. Advanced biofuels can play an important role in our future energy mix, helping to meet this need, if we can unlock the secrets to large-scale, cost-effective production. We and our partners are working to accelerate the technological breakthroughs necessary to make that happen.
Updated: April 2012