BP could become the first major energy company to start commercial scale production of cellulosic ethanol in 2010 if all goes according to plan. BP has been partnering with Verenium Corporation to commercialize the latter company’s process for breaking down cellulose into sugars.
Verenium has been running a demonstration plant in Louisiana that can produce 1.4 million gallons of ethanol annually. The Verenium process relies on enzymes to break down the cellulose, allowing it to be converted to alcohol, and the company claims almost complete conversion. The new plant will use grasses as a feedstock.
BP is also actively involved in a number of other biofuel projects including algae diesel and butanol. BP is planning to start biobutanol production at a British plant using wheat straw in the 2012/13 time frame. Butanol is seen as an important biofuel because its energy content is closer to gasoline than ethanol and it can be used in most existing engines without modification. The oil giant hopes to have demonstration butanol production running next at a UK facility.