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Has BP Actually Moved Beyond Petroleum?


When BP gave itself the tagline "Beyond Petroleum" in 2000, few environmentalists took the company seriously. Just one year later, Mother Jones magazine named BP as one of the 10 worst corporations for its environmental and human rights records, and in 2006, the company faced criminal charges for spilling 270,000 gallons of crude oil in the Alaskan tundra. Even more recently, BP was nominated for a Climate Greenwash Award. But despite all this, BP might actually live up to its tagline with a plan to become the first major energy company to initiate commercial-scale production of cellulosic ethanol.

The company claims it could launch commercial-scale production as early as next year, in a partnership with Verenium Corporation, which does the dirty work of breaking down cellulose into sugar. Verenium already has a demonstration plant, and the company plans to use grass as a feedstock when the commercial plant comes online.

The Verenium partnership may be BP's most immediate biofuel endeavor, but it's far from the only one. The company is also engaged in a biobutanol pilot project with DuPont using wheat as a feedstock. The $200 million project is expected to have the same emissions and cost as ethanol. And BP is working on a $10 million project with Martek Biosciences for microbial biofuel production (either using algae or another efficient microbe).

BP isn't the only oil company with biofuel aspirations. Exxon recently invested $600 million in a partnership with algae fuel manufacturer Synthetic Genomics, and Chevron has invested in both Solazyme and LS9.

[Via Reuters]

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  • Chris Reich

    BP is deeper beyond petroleum than Bio fuels. BP Solar is a World leader in solar energy installations.

    BP is changing its face but the culture is changing more slowly, especially on the petroleum side of the business. An ethics committee (internal) could expedite the changes and protect the company from fines and negative PR. Companies that go "ethical" will be far ahead of those who wait for the public to demand it. This is a trend missed by all the futurists. Get started now. The starting is the hardest part.

    Going Green requires more than adding flowers to advertising. It requires a desire to do good and well.

    Takes some smarts to sell smart people on this idea and most reject change. BP is going to do good and well. They are spreading from petroleum rather nicely from what I see.

    Chris Reich

  • Jensen Gelfond

    Biofuels, depending on the source, can be just as bad or worse than oil. And, ironically, most biofuels are extremely petroleum-instensive because of the equipment and fertilizer necessary to group them in large-scale monoculture farms.

  • Sebastian Guerrero

    In terms of MktCap BP is 18% smaller than Petrobras (Brasilian Oil Giant) Petrobras has produced Sugar cane ethanol since the 70's. Every major car manufacturer has hybrids that run on Gasoline, Alcohol and GNV (natural gas) direct from the factory. Brasil is also investing more than R$1 billon on Biodisel and has a production forcast of 700 million liters/ year of this specific type of disel until 2013 and 3,7 billion liters/year for ethanol.