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Fuels for the future

Shell was one of the first companies to invest in developing advanced biofuels, using crop waste or inedible plants and new conversion processes. These can potentially produce more efficient, low-carbon biofuels for blending at higher concentrations with petrol and diesel. Our biofuels research teams work with leading biotechnology companies and academic institutions.

In 2012, we completed a pilot plant at our Westhollow Technology Center in Houston, USA, to produce biofuels that do not need to be blended with petrol or diesel. The plant uses a process that converts plant sugars and inedible biomass into a range of fuels. Biofuels produced by this process have the same performance properties as conventional fuels. They can be used in existing supply chains, which eliminates the need for blending and storage infrastructure.

Whether an advanced biofuel achieves commercial scale depends on overcoming a range of technical and economic challenges. In 2012, for example, we decided not to pursue a project with Iogen Energy (Shell interest 50%) to build a large-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Canada. This has allowed us to focus our approach on processes and technologies that are more likely to achieve commercial scale.

Hydrogen for road transport continues to face significant challenges to achieving commercial scale. Shell operates hydrogen filling stations in China, Germany, Japan and the USA. These stations allow us to evaluate a range of different technologies.

Electric vehicles will become increasingly common in the coming years. The CO2 savings of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids depend on how the electricity is produced and delivered – for example, whether it comes from a CO2-intensive, coal-fired plant or a cleaner-burning natural gas plant.