Chevron, Texas A&M form alliance to convert non-food crops into renewable fuels

Chevron Corp. and Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance are joining in research to accelerate the conversion of crops for manufacturing ethanol and other biofuels from cellulose.

Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron USA Inc., will support research initiatives over a four-year period through the alliance, a formal partnership of the Texas A&M University System's Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station.

Chevron officials said the research initiatives will focus on several technology advancements to produce biofuels including:

– Identifying, assessing, cultivating, and optimizing production of second-generation energy feedstocks for cellulose and bio-oils with a focus on non-food crops.

– Characterizing and optimizing the design of dedicated bioenergy crops through advances in genomic sciences and plant breeding.

– Developing integrated logistics systems associated with the harvest, transport, storage and conversion of bioenergy crops.

– Developing advanced biofuels processing technologies.

"Chevron believes that biofuels will fill an important role in diversifying the nation's energy sources by providing a source of low-carbon transportation fuel," said Don Paul, vice president and chief technology officer, Chevron Corp. "Bringing biofuels to large-scale commercial production is an enormous challenge that requires the combined efforts of industry, universities and research institutions, and governments. It is through partnerships like this that biofuels will be a viable part of meeting the energy challenges of tomorrow."

"The Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance has a broad, holistic vision focused on developing practical, near-term solutions to bioenergy related problems, in addition to performing the necessary long-term fundamental research," said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering. "Forming an alliance with Chevron fits well with our research initiatives and allows us to leverage our strengths in biomass and biofuels to transfer new technologies from lab to the public, providing real solutions that are economical, sustainable and environmentally friendly."

For instance, Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance partners in agriculture have developed exceptional high-yield cellulosic energy crops that can produce significantly more biomass per acre than most alternatives.

"The development of biofuels from agricultural feedstocks requires a regional approach and research into many alternatives for the long-term energy needs of our country," said Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We have been able to capitalize on decades of existing research into sorghum, sugarcane, forage and oil-based cropping systems, which should provide us with premier, dedicated feedstocks for biofuels and renewable energy that are sustainable within existing agricultural production systems."

"Cellulosic ethanol, as opposed to sugar- or starch-based ethanol, broadens the choice of feedstock without impacting food supplies," said Rick Zalesky, vice president of Biofuels and Hydrogen, Chevron Technology Ventures. "Making it commercially viable poses a number of scientific and technical challenges – challenges which we believe the faculty, staff and students at one of the world's premier universities in agricultural sciences and engineering are well-equipped to overcome."

Cellulose is an energy-rich carbohydrate that is the main structural component of green plants, found in the stems, stalks and leaves. One of the primary technical and scientific challenges of making biofuels from cellulose involves designing a low cost method for releasing sugar from cellulose that is bound in the plant cell wall for fermentation into ethanol or other biofuels.

Chevron formed a biofuels business unit in May 2006 to advance technology and pursue commercial opportunities related to the production and distribution of ethanol and biodiesel in the United States. Its research and development activities in biofuels are currently structured around a research initiative with Weyerhaeuser Co., one of the world's largest integrated forest products companies; a major alliance with U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and a portfolio of four significant, regionally focused university programs.

In addition to the Texas A&M agreement, Chevron's biofuels business unit has formed research arrangements with the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of California Davis and the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (a consortium of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory), three major Colorado universities and other private companies.

Chevron maintains a substantial internal proprietary capability directed to applying research and development and commercializing external research success, company officials said. From 2002-06, Chevron spent roughly $2 billion on renewables and alternative energy and energy efficiency initiatives. From 2007-09, Chevron expects to spend more than $2.5 billion.

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