More biobutanol supply coming soon

I mentioned last month about the development of biobutanol in fuel application. Butanol is currently being used as an industrial solvent and most of it is produced via petrochemical processing. According to industry sources, fermented butanol is only currently sparsely being produced in China. Biobutanol has not been commercially applied as a fuel as of yet.

I got interested in biobutanol development when I heard DuPont and BP are working on this for fuel application. Apparently, biobutanol is said to be much better than bioethanol as a fuel because it packs more energy per gallon, it can be transported in existing pipelines, easier to mix with gasoline and can even be used alone in internal combustion engines, and most of all, it can be managed in the existing gasoline distribution network – why is the main challenge for fuel ethanol suppliers.

Along my research, I encountered several more companies working on developing a more cost-efficient biobutanol production both for fuel and chemical applications: US start-up firm Cobalt Biofuels, Gevo Inc., and Tetravitae Bioscience; UK biotech company Green Biologics; and French biotech firm Metabolic Explorer.

I was able to talk to Cobalt, Gevo and Green Biologics as well as Nexant biofuels consultant Ron Cascone. As usual, DuPont ignored my request.

According to Cascone, he expects commercialization of these incoming biobutanol developments within the next 4-5 years. Of course market acceptance of biobutanol as a fuel will still depend on car manufacturers. I doubt consumers even know of its existence.

According to Cobalt, Gevo and Green Biologics, their biobutanol products are geared first to compete in chemical applications before going to the fuel sector since biobutanol as a chemical product has a price premium of about 3x that of the price of ethanol. Most of the companies developing biobutanol are already planning to build their demo plant.

You can check out more information on biobutanol development in ICIS Chemical Business’ March 2 Biofuels issue.

[Photo of Green Biologics' team at its UK lab.]

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