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Fast Talk

Virent Develops Plant-Based Crude Oil Alternative

Investors, researchers, and executives are discovering new ways to make and use biofuels.

Virent Develops Plant-Based Crude Oil Alternative
Mary Tilton | Photo by Saverio Truglia
Photo by Saverio Truglia

Mary Tilton
VP of Plant Operations / Virent
Madison, Wisconsin

Tilton oversees all of Virent's research, development, analysis, and production facilities, where the company uses chemistry to turn plants into fuel.

"We are replacing crude oil. We're using catalytic chemistry to manipulate the carbon-oxygen bonds of sugars and other bio-derived materials to turn them into hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals. That same catalytic chemistry can take plant materials and turn them into the components of crude oil, which include the chemicals for plastics. We now have a material that is exactly like what you burn in a vehicle, which is an advantage because it can go right into the distribution pipeline. The only difference between our fuel and gasoline from crude oil is that our carbon is new, whereas the carbon in crude oil is millions of years old. The fuels we've generated have been used in Shell's fleet test."

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A version of this article appeared in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.