BP Forms Joint Venture with Verenium to Advance Cellulosic Ethanol

February 19 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 3 Hot

Verenium

BP has announced a 50-50 joint venture with Verenium to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol from non-food feedstocks.

The companies have committed $45 million in funding and assets to progress the development of one of the nation's first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities, located in Highlands County, Florida. 

Yes, it will take years to scale up cellulosic (and algae) energy systems, but the pace of breakthroughs and production focused investments remains one of the most compelling stories emerging in the energy sector. 

The Real Transition:
Growing Energy by Closing the Carbon Loop
The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed.  But the real question for those exploring the futures of energy is: Will our economy continue to be based on energy that is 'borrowed and wasted' or 'created and recycled'? 

We shifted from an Agricultural to Industrial society, by tapping 'stored energy' locked up in the chemical carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal, oil and natural gas.  And this system is shamefully inefficient at every level from electric power generation to the mechanical engines that power our transportation sector.

If the Industrial Age was based on a high value energy 'input', low value energy 'output' (waste), the 21st century could be shaped by our efforts to close the loop of chemical energy cycles using biology (chemistry, et al) to return to a high value energy product from that waste.

Looking at Biology is an Energy Tool

Again, just to put things into perspective.

Beyond wind/solar and nuclear, our economy is driven by the energy captured from broken chemical bonds of carbon and hydrogen from coal and oil.

But this form of chemical energy potential is locked up in other things like agricultural waste, wood chips, et al. We just need to advance the tools that can unlock this stored energy and put it into a usuable format (e.g. electricity, liquid fuels, hydrogen) that run our transportation network, homes and factories. 

Today we use chemical engineering as the primary tool for converting energy. (And this will continue to dominate for many years ahead!)

But...

Biology is an emering tool for converting 'waste' energy (e.g. woods chips, agricultural waste, et al)  into usable forms (e.g. electricity, liquid fuel, hydrogen) by tapping the power of biomolecular pathways that have mastered the manipulation of molecules.

Despite its 'Beyond Petroleum' rhetoric, BP is not going to stop being an oil/natural gas anytime soon. 

But this joint venture is a powerful strategic statement that it might be ready to move Beyond Extraction, towards a company that grows and stores energy. 

 

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Image Credit: Verenium

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Comment Thread (2 Responses)

  1. You’ve been a pretty strong proponent of algae. Can we use some of the stuff that has been causing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico?

    Posted by: AdamEdwards   February 22, 2009
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  2. Good question… Not sure, really!! I think that these dead zones are caused by lack of oxygen via things like ag stream run-offs? My algae play is to grow hydrogen-carbon chains of fatty acids for bioenergy—- using carbon dioxide. But I’m not sure if CO2 is in the dead zones? Good question to explore… I think the key for the dead zones is to change our farming systems…!!

    Posted by: Garry Golden   February 23, 2009
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