New technology needed to drive biofuel growth, BP says

By From Reuters| Jan 31 2007
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Biofuels could supply up to 30 percent of the world's transport fuels by 2030 but the scope for major growth will depend on new technologies, the head of BP's biofuels business said today.

"The future of this industry is going to be driven by innovation in technology," said Phil New, president of BP Global Biofuels, at a conference organized by Euromoney.

New said there were major drawbacks with current biofuel technologies related to their cost and performance as well as competition between food and fuel uses of crops.

He said BP believes that these problems could be solved with the eventual solution likely to involve ligno-cellulosic technologies combined with more advanced biomolecules.

Scientists have been working on a process known as ligno-cellulosis which would enable non-food crops and plant waste to be used to produce biofuels.

FOOD VERSUS FUEL

Biofuels are currently produced mainly from food crops such as sugar cane, grains and oilseeds, raising fears that the industry's expansion could increase food prices and possibly even spark food shortages.

"There is a very real prospect that biofuels could amount to up to 30 percent of the world's road transport fuels," New said.

New said there were significant concerns about the performance of ethanol which can be substituted for petrol.

"Ethanol is a reasonable start but it is a poor fuel molecule compared with either the fossil fuels it is seeking to replace or the potential for advanced, more complex alcohol molecules in the future," he said.

"It can't be transported, it's got lousy fuel efficiency characteristics, it is in many applications potentially quite unsafe and explosive and of course it can be very corrosive," he said.

Last year, BP announced it was partnering with DuPont Co. to develop an alternative to ethanol, biobutanol, which would be produced at a British Sugar plant in eastern England. British Sugar is a unit of Associated British Foods.

"We will putting in some pilot capacity we hope in the quite near future," he said, adding that development of the necessary technology was "going well."
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