BP is poised for a major advance in its biofuel operations, as it is completing commissioning of the world’s first biobutanol pilot plant and plans to begin full–scale production later this year at its Vivergo Fuels facility, one of the world’s largest ethanol production plants.
The Vivergo facility will convert around 1.1 million tonnes of high-starch UK wheat into 420 million litres of ethanol each year. This will represent around one-third of the UK’s ethanol demand under the government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, said Phil New, CEO of BP Biofuels, speaking at a meeting of the UK’s Parliamentary Low Carbon Transport Group last week. The bioethanol should produce less than 50% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of conventional petrol over its lifecycle, he added.
Both plants are situated near Hull in eastern England. The biobutanol plant is operated by Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a joint venture with US chemicals giant DuPont, while the Vivergo operation is a joint venture with DuPont and British Sugar.
Biobutanol promises even greater GHG savings than bioethanol and, unlike other biofuels, it can be transported through existing pipelines. Also, under EU regulations, it can be blended with petrol at concentrations of 15%, compared with just 5% for ethanol, without any modifications to vehicle engines. Like ethanol, it can be produced from a variety of feedstocks, including wheat, corn, sugarcane and sorghum. When the biobutanol production technology is proven, BP said it will consider converting the Vivergo facility from ethanol to biobutanol production.
The company is also developing the world’s first commercial-scale facility for producing cellulosic ethanol, following its acquisition in July last year of the biofuels business of California-based Verenium. The attraction of this process is that it can use waste wood, energy grasses and the non-edible part of plants as feedstock.
By. Graham Cooper