Virent Aspirant: A New CEO, and Revving towards Commercialization
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) From Wisconsin we have huge news from Virent, which has appointed one of Shell New Energies’ gurus, Stacey Orlandi, as Virent CEO, succeeding Lee Edwards who is headed into retirement after a distinguished 8-year run. Most recently, Orlandi was Shell’s VP, Technology for Novel Processes and New Energies.
Orlandi’s mission? To commercialize Virent’s technology for the large scale production of renewable fuels and chemicals.
The Beyond Petroleum generation redux
Over the years, we have noted the number of BP execs from the John Brown era — the days of Beyond Petroleum — that are playing a key role in the commercializing biobased technologies. Orland is another, having served for a number of years over at BP including a stretch as Cherry Point Refinery Manager, Refining Technology Development Manager and Refining Supply Manager. Tesoro executive VP CJ Warner is also a BP veteran, as well as Lee Edwards, who once headed up BP Solar. Not to mention that Advanced Biofuels Association president Mike McAdams served a humber of years in the Brown-era policy unit.
Just to make the circle fully complete, it wasn’t too long ago that Shell was the primary investor in Virent and the focus then was almost entirely on fuels. As other investors arrived, such as Coca-Cola, the focus expanded “beyond fuels” and into the world of chemicals.
It’s a brilliant addition, really, a coup for Virent.
Today, Virent is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tesoro Corporation. The company is creating the low carbon fuels and chemicals the world demands using a wide range of naturally‐occurring, renewable resources.
They call it a strategic consortium aimed at commercializing Virent technology, and it’s Coca-Cola, Toray, Johnson Matthey, and Tesoro.
The Prime Objective? To develop the first commercial production facility for the BioForming process. Individual members will contribute to that effort through technical and engineering assistance, infrastructure, supply chain support and/or product off-take commitments. The Consortium will work jointly to develop the scale up strategy, including the size and location of the first plant, which will be underpinned by fuel and chemical offtake commitments.
Tesoro operates in the West — California is a gigantic part of its financial base. And California has re-adopted the Low Carbon Fuel Standard with more aggressive targets. Low carbon fuels may be in retreat in the EU, but they are on the march in California, and Tesoro has decided strategically to serve the evolving needs of its customer base rather than fighting the future.
We’ve seen exotic blends for Virent fuels in contemplation, as high as 45%. That would certainly completely change the path to compliance under the LCFS and also the Renewable Fuel Standard. The national US target of 36 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent fuel, which looks highly infrastructure challenged.
It gets hard to make an affordable gallon of hydrocarbon fuel starting from a 15 cent sugar. 5 cent, 10 cents — that’s the world of cellulosic sugars — and we may well see that the advent of those will unlock a big future for Virent.
“Tesoro is very pleased to have Stacey on board to lead the Virent team and support our commitment to renewables,” said CJ Warner, Tesoro’s Executive Vice President of Operations. “She brings a unique combination of success in technology, manufacturing and supply which are all high priorities as Virent progresses plans for commercialization. I would also like to thank Lee Edwards for his 8 years of dedication and success at Virent,” Warner continued. “Lee has been a great champion for the renewables industry and an exceptional leader for Virent as the company advanced the BioForming technology to the point where they can focus on scale-up and commercialization with Consortium partners.” READ MORE