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."
Biofuels are renewable, meaning their sources can be regrown.
Chevron believes that advanced biofuels could help meet the world's future energy needs if they are scalable, commercial 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 make a difference. 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.
- Sustainability – As a society, we must understand the environmental and socioeconomic issues of land 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.
- 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 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.
Catchlight Energy signed agreements to supply forest-based feedstock to a third-party conversion plant and to purchase biofuels blendstocks from that plant. The plant was mechanically complete and began the startup process in late 2012.
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 large-scale, cost-effective production. We and our partners are working to accelerate the technological breakthroughs that could make that happen.
Updated: June 2013