BP and Martek to make sweet biodiesel

UK energy giant BP and Maryland, US-headquartered Martek Biosciences are teaming up to create biodiesel from sugar-based feedstocks.

The sugar to biodiesel pathway uses advanced biological science to convert sugars derived from biomass into lipids using unique fermentation micro-organisms; the lipids are then converted into fuel molecules through chemical or thermocatalytic processes.

Biodiesel produced from sustainable feedstocks via the fermentation of sugars will offer the potential to deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions of up to 80-90% when compared to traditional fossil fuel.

Other advantages of this sugar to biodiesel pathway over conventional biodiesel made from vegetable oils include access to a wide variety of biomass feedstocks, which can be produced at scale and in high yield; ability to tailor the product for a variety of diesel and jet-fuel needs; reduced exposure to vegetable oil price.

The companies signed a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) to work on the production of microbial oils for biofuels applications.

The partnership combines a broad technology platform and operational capabilities to advance the development of a step-change technology for the conversion of sugars into biodiesel.

Under the terms of the multi-year agreement, Martek and BP will work together to establish proof of concept for large-scale, cost effective microbial biodiesel production through fermentation.

‘As an alternative to conventional vegetable oils we believe sugar to diesel technology has the potential to deliver economic, sustainable and scaleable biodiesel supplies,’ says Philip New, CEO of BP Biofuels.

The technology has been demonstrated in Martek’s field for more than 20 years and the challenge is to adapt this technology to the needs of the biofuels market, in terms of product profile and economics.

‘It is part of our approach of integrating sugarcane and lignocellulosic biofuels with advanced technologies to produce products with a wide range of uses,’ New adds.

BP has agreed to contribute up to $10 million (€7 million) to this initial phase of the collaboration which leverages Martek’s expertise in microbial oil production and BP’s production and commercialisation experience in biofuels as the platform for the joint development effort.

Martek will perform the biotechnology research and development associated with this initial phase, whilst BP will contribute to its integration within the biofuels value chain.

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