Biofuels are transportation fuels made from recently living organisms. They are renewable, meaning their sources can be regrown. Biofuels are generally divided into three categories:
- First-generation, or conventional, biofuels are made largely from edible sugars, starches and plant oils.
- Second-generation biofuels are made from nonedible cellulosic plant materials.
- Third-generation biofuels are produced by algae and other microbes.
Chevron is active in all three biofuel categories. We are a major buyer and blender of first-generation biofuels, primarily corn ethanol. Almost all of the gasoline Chevron sells in the United States contains up to 10 percent corn ethanol. We also identify and evaluate potential technologies to produce second- and third-generation biofuels, which we refer to as "advanced biofuels."
Chevron believes that advanced biofuels could help meet the world's future energy needs if they are scalable, sustainable and affordable for consumers. That's why we are working on developing solutions in the following areas:
- Scalability – Given the global demand for energy, biofuels manufacturers would need tens of millions of tons of biomass annually to produce enough fuel to significantly contribute to meeting this demand. Chevron is evaluating technologies that could use our existing manufacturing facilities to produce advanced biofuels. Finding the best option is time-consuming because technology that works in the laboratory often cannot be successfully scaled to economic commercial production.
- Sustainability – As a society, we must understand the environmental and socioeconomic issues related to land, water and biomass use, from the effects of growing and harvesting biomass to the production and use of biofuels.
- Cost – Biofuels manufacturers will need to drive down the costs of cultivating, harvesting and transporting biomass and must find ways to make large-scale production economical. To enable rapid market acceptance, advanced biofuels must be compatible with existing infrastructure and vehicles and must meet consumer expectations for both price and performance.
- 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.
What Chevron Is Doing
Chevron is especially interested in biomass-based liquids with a chemical composition similar to crude oil, often called "bio-oils." Bio-oils can subsequently be converted into biohydrocarbons, which are finished products chemically identical to conventional petroleum-based fuels. Because they are similar to products made from crude oil, biohydrocarbons require no special infrastructure or vehicles to be shipped, stored, processed, blended or used. And they are compatible with current engine technologies.
Chevron is developing methods to co-process biomass-based liquids with conventional fuels in some of our refineries. Although early results have been promising, considerable work remains.
Chevron has collaborated with a number of industrial and commercial research partners to further our knowledge of biofuels. As a result, we have gained a high level of expertise in this area that will help us select the most promising alternatives to meet our biofuels goals.
Many technical and commercial issues must still be resolved to make biofuels available on a scale and at prices competitive with petroleum-based fuels. Our efforts are coordinated by our Chevron Technology Ventures business unit.
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 if we can unlock the secrets to sustainable, large-scale, cost-effective production. We and our partners are working to achieve the technological breakthroughs that could make that happen.
Updated: May 2015