Butanol biobutanol-dyson-racing

Published on September 14th, 2012 | by Christopher DeMorro

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New Butanol Process Improves Output 100%, Cuts Costs

Biofuels have sort of fallen by the wayside when it comes to the talk on alternative energy. But a new butanol fermentation and capturing process can double output, while drastically reducing costs. This could make butanol a potentially attractive alternative to the other options on the table.

There is a lot of sciency stuff going on in this study that I don’t exactly understand, but the gist of it is this. Butanol production was bottlenecked because the organism used to break down biomass would also be killed by the butanol itself. This effectively limited production, and made producing the fuel quite expensive as well.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a process that captures the butanol as its produced, keeping the bacterium alive, doubling butanol production. Researchers also utilized “cloud point separation” to separate the butanol from the remaining water, seriously cutting recovery costs.

Solving these two issues could make butanol more attractive. The biggest draw of butanol is that it can be used in unmodified gasoline engines in concentrations up to 85%, unlike more-corrosive ethanol. It can also be made from the same biomass feedstocks as ethanol, though its energy density is much higher. Also, no drilling required!

All that said, butanol seems like a long shot when EVs, hydrogen fuel cells, and natural gas get a lion’s share of the money and attention. Race teams like Dyson have had some success with biobutanol on the track, but breaking into the mainstream probably isn’t happening. Perhaps this is just the breakthrough researchers were waiting for.

Source: Science Codex


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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • Nixon

    Sounds like a possible gasoline additive to reduce our overall dependence on oil. If it really is that close to gas, and can be certified to work in existing gas engines, just start mixing it in to gasoline in small quantities at select gas station chains and see if it takes off.

    If something like a B10 butanol/gasoline mix can be sold for a nickle or a dime per gallon less than gasoline because butanol is now so much cheaper to make, the market will be huge for it.

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