What Are Biofuels?
Biofuels are fuels made from recently living organisms. They can be divided into three categories:
Chevron is active in all three biofuels categories. We are a major buyer and blender of first-generation biofuels, primarily ethanol. In the United States alone, more than 70 percent of the gasoline Chevron sells contains ethanol.
We also conduct research on second- and third-generation biofuels, which we refer to as "advanced." Advanced biofuels could play an important role in diversifying the world's energy sources and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
What Are the Benefits?
Biofuels are renewable, meaning their sources can be regrown. Advanced biofuels can offer environmental benefits such as lower carbon emissions and lower sulfur compared with first-generation biofuels and conventional petroleum-based fuels.
Advanced biofuels present Chevron with an excellent opportunity to extend our industry leadership in fuels while helping to meet the world's future energy needs. But first we must overcome several obstacles:
• Scalability – Tens of millions of tons of biomass are required annually to produce enough fuel to make a difference, given the size of the global marketplace.
• Sustainability – Environmental and socioeconomic issues of land and biomass use must be understood, from the effects of growing and harvesting biomass to the production and use of biofuels.
• Cost – The costs of cultivating, harvesting and transporting biomass must be driven down, and scaling up the technology to full-production levels must be economical. And to enable rapid market acceptance, advanced biofuels must be compatible with existing infrastructure and vehicles.
• 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.
While the challenges are great, so too are the opportunities. Chevron believes that through technological innovation, productive public dialogue and the collaboration of industry, governments and the scientific community, these obstacles can be overcome and that advanced biofuels can play a role in meeting the world's ever-increasing demand for energy.
What Chevron Is Doing
• Identifying and developing ideal biomass feedstocks that are sustainable and scalable. Chevron has zeroed in on a handful of feedstocks in two broad categories — lignocellulosics and lipids. The first category, lignocellulosics, is forest residues, agricultural residues and purpose-grown energy crops such as switchgrass and other grasses. The second group, lipid-based feedstocks, includes algae and oilseeds such as succulent plants known as jatropha.
• Identifying and testing technologies for converting biomass into biofuels. Chevron is focusing on both biochemical and thermochemical conversion. Finding the best option is time-consuming because technology that works in the laboratory on a small scale often doesn't transfer to commercial-level production.
• Developing finished fuels that meet consumer expectations. The final product must be compatible with existing vehicles.
Along with our own experts, Chevron works with a number of commercial and academic research partners to further our knowledge on these critical issues. Our efforts are coordinated by a business unit called Chevron Technology Ventures, which oversees the company's advanced biofuels research portfolio. One example of a promising commercial partnership is Catchlight Energy, our 50-50 joint venture with Weyerhaeuser Company, which is working to commercialize advanced biofuels made from forest-based biomass.
Through research and cooperation, we are working to uncover the strengths and drawbacks of potential biomass sources and conversion technologies to determine the best path forward.