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Home » BioChemicals, BioRefineries, Process, R & D Focus

Biobutanol: Friend or Foe?

Submitted by on March 23, 2010 – 2:31 pmNo Comment

By Erin Voegele  (Ethanol Producer Magazine) Given the immense challenges faced by the ethanol industry over the past 18 months, it isn’t surprising that some may be inclined to view biobutanol as competition. However, future biobutanol producers adamantly describe themselves as allies of ethanol production.

Those working to develop U.S. biobutanol production stress that they should not be seen as competitors to the existing ethanol industry any more than cellulosic ethanol should be seen as a competitor to corn ethanol. Rather, they note that producers of all biofuels share the same goals, and will be valuable allies in meeting the second stage of the renewable fuel standard (RFS2) requirements, limiting U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and furthering the political initiatives of the renewable fuels industry.

…in order to meet the targets of the RFS2, the U.S. biofuels industry will essentially need to quadruple production capacity in a little more than a decade. In addition to setting these high blending goals, the RFS2 stipulates that the vast majority of this growth in the biofuels industry will need to stem from advanced production technologies that drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In other words, the RFS2 has created a huge market opportunity for renewable fuels that comply with the regulation’s definition of advanced biofuel, cellulosic biofuel, and biomass-based diesel. This includes not only advanced ethanol technologies, but other alcohol-based fuels as well.

What is Biobutanol?
Like ethanol, biobutanol is an alcohol-based biofuel. Both products are manufactured through fermentation and can be used as a fuel additive. While both ethanol and biobutanol share favorable environmental characteristics relative to gasoline, butanol can be blended into gasoline without increasing the vapor pressure and is more resistant to water absorption. The production processes to make each fuel are also similar and use the same feedstocks. Although slight differences are employed in the fermentation and distillation processes, these differences are small enough to allow butanol technology to be retrofitted in existing ethanol plants. 

…(Gevo’s Chris) Ryan says biobutanol can be converted into hydrocarbons in existing refineries. This means that rather than being employed as a biofuel additive, the product can essentially be transformed into a renewable gasoline product, which negates the issue of allowable blend percentages. “If you look at what you can do with butanol and ethanol together, not only are you outlining the options to blend the two as a gasoline blendstock, but there are various ways to combine these two products to serve the gasoline market needs, the refinery needs, and address some chemical market opportunities as well.”       READ MORE

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