EPA approves Virent biofuel for use in vehicles

Virent Inc. has taken another step toward producing commercial fuels from plant sugars, with its announcement that it has received fuel registration from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Virent said its BioForm Gasoline has been registered in blends of up to 45 percent, and that its biogasoline can now be used in cars and trucks.

The biogasoline, which is derived from plant sugars and produced at a biorefinery in Madison, Wis., is a high-octane fuel, which means it would be sold as a premium fuel at a gas station.

Royal Dutch Shell, Virent's partner, funded the testing that took place at Southwest Research Institute. The registration testing demonstrated that air emissions from the blended fuel were at a level allowed under pollution regulations.

"Securing EPA registration of our BioForm Gasoline is further confirmation of Virent's high quality drop-in fuel and is another step toward commercializing our technology to produce renewable fuels and chemicals from biobased feedstocks," said Lee Edwards, Virent chief executive, in a statement.

Virent's Madison biorefinery, which opened in 2010, can produce up to 10,000 gallons a year of fuel. The premium biogasoline has been used by Shell in road tests as well as by Ferrari cars in Formula One Grand Prix.

Ralph Lerner, director of business development at Virent, said Tuesday the EPA registration is one of a series of necessary steps that need to take place before biogasoline can be produced in mass quantities and sold.

"It's only one step on a fairly long path," he said.

There is no publicly announced time frame for building a commercial-scale refinery, he added. Shell has built its own pilot refinery in Texas that is also continuing to work with and explore Virent's plant-sugar-to-fuel technology.

"Shell is pleased to see continued progress of biofuels as a road transport fuel in the United States as evidenced by this most recent EPA registration of a plant-based alternative fuel," said Matthew Tipper, vice president of alternative energies at Shell, in a statement. "This success demonstrates the progress being made by the biofuels industry. Also, it supports a continuation of a framework for expanding commercialization and use of biofuels, including advanced biofuels produced from nonfood based plant alternatives, in the United States."

Though still working on gasoline and renewable jet fuel, Virent has been focused more in the last few years on its work to produce renewable chemicals from plants that would replace petroleum-based plastic in bottles for Coca-Cola.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel