Shell and Recent Biofuels Moves

According to the Financial Times, Shell recently entered a $12 billion deal with Cosan, the Brazilian sugar and ethanol producer.  Included in the deal are Shell's stakes in Iogen and Codexis, which together have a bunch of potent biological technologies useful for turning sugar and celluose into biofuels.  This represents a shift in strategy towards the biological production of fuels and away from industrial chemistry.  Last fall Shell sold off its stake in Choren, which had an advanced biomass-to-liquids program based on gasification of just about anything.  I met a group of executives from Choren at a meeting in Alberta about 18 months ago, and they seemed on top of the world with the partnership from Shell supporting their feedstock agnostic process.

It is interesting that Shell decided to change directions like this.  In the last couple of years I've heard many chemical engineers (including some from Shell) suggest that many of the problems plaguing process development in gasification and catalytic fuel synthesis were getting solved.  The story we told at Bio-era, and that I developed further in the book, is that industrial chemistry  would be one of many routes to biofuels, but that they might compete poorly in the long run because they require such careful tuning.  So Shell's exit might have been predicted at some point, but it came much sooner than I thought.  It appears biological technologies may appear a better bet even at this early stage.