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Shell buys stake in Madison biotech startup Virent

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Tuesday it has purchased a stake in U.S. biotech startup Virent Energy Systems Inc., a company that turns plant sugars into fuel closely resembling gasoline.

Shell declined to disclose terms of the deal. It will receive a seat on the board of directors of Virent, based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Virent, with around 70 employees, has previously received $10 million (euro6.4 million) in U.S. government aid and $40 million ((euro25.5 million) in venture capital backing.

Shell and Virent announced a five-year test partnership in 2008 and said they hoped one day to move to large scale production.

Virent says its technology has advantages over better-known processes that turn plant matter into ethanol. The fuel that Virent makes is a substitute for normal gasoline, potentially eliminating the need for gasoline-biofuel blends, or the specialized infrastructure needed to use pure ethanol.

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