BP to trial biofuels at London 2012

18th July 2012


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Three "next generation" biofuels offering potential solutions to the sustainability challenges of growing crops for liquid fuel will power 100 official cars at the Olympic games

Oil and gas giant BP has showcased three biofuels it has developed to tackle the challenges of lowering carbon emissions from combustion engines, providing an alternative to fossil fuels and competing with food crops.

The multinational has used bioengineering techniques to redesign yeast molecules, used to ferment biomass and create fuels, to increase yields, enabling the use of a broader range of plants and more energy-intensive fuels.

“It’s going to be a long while before there’s a viable alternative to the internal combustion engine and the demand for liquid fuels in transport is going to increase significantly in the future,” said Philip New, chief executive of BP Biofuels at the company’s “fueling the future” event. “The only viable alternative to using fossil fuels is using biomass.”

In a bid to move away from sugarcane, which can only be grown in equatorial climates, and to reduce competition for land use with food crops, BP has created a yeast that can breakdown the more of the sugars found in plants.

This enables the company to use species of grass that grow in temperate climates and on low-grade soil as fuel crops. As a result BP estimates that a hectare of its “energy grasses” can produce up to four times the amount of ethanol than traditional biofuel crops like corn.

BP already has a demonstration plant in the US capable of generating 1.4 million gallons of its cellulosic ethanol a year and is planning to create a commercial-scale plant in Florida that will produce 36 million gallons of fuel annually by 2015.

The second of BP’s bioengineering breakthroughs has enabled it to create a biofuel that provides more energy. While a litre of ethanol contains around two-thirds of the energy of an equivalent amount of petrol, BP’s new biobutanol has around 85%.

BP research concludes that biobutanol is also more compatible with modern engines than other biofuels, like ethanol, allowing it to be mixed in higher quantities with petrol, and generating more carbon savings. Under EU regulation the UK requires a mix of 5% of biofuels with petrol at the pump, for the Olympic trials BP will be using a mix of 24% biobutanol.

The company has also created a biodiesel from sugar, which is “indistinguishable” from the fossil fuel, providing the same amount of energy, but with a 60% reduction in carbon emissions. At the event, BP confirmed it aims to have commercial-scale production of diesel from sugar in five years.

“These breakthrough technologies will redefine biofuels. By incorporating them in the fuels for London 2012 we have taken the next generation of biofuels from the laboratory to the road,” said New.

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