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.