BP Makes Big Bet on Biofuel and Wind





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In remarks on Tuesday by BP plc (NYSE:BP)’s alternative-energy business head, look for biofuel and wind as the shiny stars of the company’s alternative energy ventures.

Katrina Landis, CEO of BP plc’s alternative energy business, spoke at the Washington’s Atlantic Council and said the company is ahead of schedule with its investment plans in this area, reported MarketWatch.

BP initiated its Alternative Energy division in 2005 with lofty plans to invest $8 billion over 10 years. Fast forward to the present time and it has already spent $7 billion; the United States has been the beneficiary of $4 billion. By year’s end, BP said it will have invested the remaining $1 billion.

Landis said of the division to MarketWatch, “When we entered the sector in 2005, to be honest with you we knew little about it. ”

It appears the risk as paid off but it’s been a work in progress. In the first three years, the company cautiously spent money as the industry evolved but then expenditures picked up pace. Landis explained, “The reason it’s been so fast is that we’ve found some very, very attractive business opportunities.”

Two words: cellulosic ethanol

So where has the $8 billion gone?

By 2030, BP sees biofuels representing 30 percent of the gasoline pool with cellulosic ethanol as the energy to keep an eye on, reported MarketWatch,

Landis said, “Our cellulosic ethanol energy grass feedstock grows 15 to18 feet high and produces 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre.”

This “energy cane” is developed at BP’s inaugural commercial plant in a Florida agricultural town. It was a place desperate for job opportunities and Landis said the locals are “thrilled with development of this farm, and it’s on marginal land so there is no potential impact of the land being used for food crops.”

Furthermore, the company projects cellulosic ethanol at $80 per barrel by 2022 in the marketplace with a yields four to five times greater than corn.

They have a strong belief in it with Landis noting, “This is what’s driving us to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the industry.”

Strong Winds Forecasted

On the wind energy front, BP has forged ahead with its U.S. wind interests from a production tax credit. The company has 13 operating wind farms in seven states; three additional ones are under construction.

BP believes wind cynics need to take a look. Landis said, “Over the course of two,three, four years, depending on gas pricing, we will be able to compete with gas without any form of additional subsidization.”

But BP doesn’t stand alone in its shift toward alternative energy. Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) made the move toward natural gas with its 2010 purchase of XTO Energy. At the time, it was the biggest gamble on natural gas. Unfortunately two years later with prices tanking, Exxon Mobile is seeing a bet that necessarily hasn’t paid off.

Companies will continue dipping their toes in the alternative energy waters but look for many to wade in shallow waters not the deep end.

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