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Shell sees 2011 as “year of choices” on biofuels

By Scott Malone

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts Wed Oct 13, 2010 (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell, which is investigating about 10 second-generation biofuel technologies that would use nonfood raw materials, expects to narrow its research to about five options next year, its top scientist said.

“I am putting a lot of time and energy into sustainable biofuels, second-generation biofuels, in essence, the conversion of redundant material, straw, into ethanol,” Gerald Schotman, the Anglo-Dutch oil company’s chief technology officer said on Wednesday. “We’re also playing with ideas on algae, growing algae and then converting algae directly into gasoline and diesel.”

While ethanol has won praise for being a sustainable fuel, today it is largely made from corn and has also drawn criticism for diverting resources that could otherwise be used to feed people.

Shell’s second-generation efforts could work around that problem by converting either agricultural byproducts or algae to liquid fuel, either ethanol or a diesel-like fuel.

The company aims to focus its efforts on about five developing technologies next year, Schotman said in an interview: “2011 is going to be the year of choices.”

Schotman was in Cambridge, just outside Boston, to disclose that Shell had agreed to fund $25 million in Massachusetts Institute of Technology research projects focused on energy over the next five years.

He warned that it will be quite some time before biofuels and other renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar power, displace fossil fuels. By 2050, it’s possible that the world will generate 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources, but that leaves 70 percent in traditional fossil fuels, he said.

“This is a long-distance horse race,” he said of the development process. “The world estimated that it was going to take three laps, but it’s going to take six or seven laps.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)


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