Biobutanol progress

The last time I wrote something about bio-butanol was in September for an article on ICIS Chemical Business*. Gevo just announced its initial public offering (IPO), DuPont’s Butamax joint venture opened its demonstration plant in Hull, UK, and Cobalt Technologies and signed up engineering firm Fluor to design its 1.5m gal/year plant which is expected to start in 2012.

In October, I wrote an article for ICIS News* about my interview with Chinese biobutanol producer Cathay Industrial Biotech, which is planning to build its second biobutanol facility either in China or in the US. Cathay Biotech’s vice president Paul Caswell expects the planned facility’s capacity to be around 100,000 tonnes/year.

The company is currently producing corn-based n-butanol for chemical applications at its 100,000 tonne/year biorefinery in Jilin Province, China. The facility, which uses the acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation route, started production in 2009 of about 65-70% butanol, 20-25% acetone and 5-10% ethanol.

Caswell estimated the market growth for butanol in China at 8.9%/year with a market volume as of 2009 at 900,000 tonnes (mostly petrochem-based via propylene-based oxo synthesis) and a value of $1.5bn. Around 55% of butanol in China was imported last year, said Caswell.

An interesting information from Cathay Industrial Biotech unrelated to their bio-butanol is their production of bio-dibasic acids and dicarboxylic acids, which reminded me of Elevance’s products of course. The company produces the organic compounds by fermentation of paraffins and Caswell said they have also begun trial production of certain diacids from vegetable oil-based fatty acids.

Caswell noted that they are number 2 supplier in China for their dodecanedioic acid (D12), which has big market use in polyamides manufacture (think of toothbrush bristles!).

Back to bio-butanol, Cathay Industrial said they have no plans (as of yet) to make the product for fuel use as chemicals application is more profitable especially in China.

Meanwhile, the blog saw press releases from Gevo, Cobalt Technologies and Butamax within the past several days. Gevo announced yesterday that its bio-butanol is the first isobutanol to be listed in the EPA’s Fuel Registration Directory and is now approved for blending with gasoline.

Gevo will soon begin the retrofit of its first 22m gal/year (GPY) ethanol facility in Luverne, MN, to produce 18m GPY of isobutanol. The Company plans to expand its isobutanol production via the retrofit of additional ethanol facilities over the next few years.

Last week, Cobalt Technologies said it has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Navy to develop technology for the conversion of biobutanol into full performance jet and diesel fuels.

N-biobutanol produced by Cobalt will be converted to bio-jet and biodiesel fuels using technology developed at the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) in China Lake, CA. Cobalt will also have an option to obtain an exclusive license to commercialize process improvements, made under the CRADA, for the production of all military and civilian transportation fuels.

Butamax said it is making big milestones with their bio-butanol as the company prepares for global commercial launch via partnerships and setting up laboratory research, one recently in Brazil to accelerate commercial designs for sugarcane-to-biobutanol.

Butamax is conducting research in India, the UK, Germany and the US as well. The company said it has filed a portfolio of patent applications for its proprietary technology across the biofuel value chain including biocatalyst, manufacturing process and fuel applications.

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One Response to Biobutanol progress

  1. Doris de Guzman 16 April, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Correction. Cathay Industrial said they are #1 dodecanedioic acid supplier in China and #2 in the world.

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