Most people know ethanol is far from perfect.Â It can’t be transported in pipelines and it delivers far less energy than gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis.
Ethanol is a good start. But ethanol was not designed to be a fuel. No one sat down and said, “Let’s create a biomolecule that will operate in engines.” What happened was, people said ethanol can work in engines. As a lot of people are becoming aware, it’s good, but it has some drawbacks. Butanol is, we think, an innovation that overcomes many of the drawbacks.
You shouldn’t view butanol as being a competitor to ethanol. An ethanol plant can evolve into a butanol plant. And you can mix ethanol and butanol together, and it can actually help you use more ethanol.
BP thinks it has the answer: butanol.Â Like ethanol, the fuel can be made from corn starch, sugar cane, or sugar beets, but it can be shipped in pipelines and has a higher energy content than its better known biofuel counterpart.Â Butanol made its way into headlines last year after BP and DUPont announced a partnership to develop new technology to bring the fuel to market.Â Last month, BP also announced a new 10-year, $500 million project with UC Berkely on biofuels like bio-butanol.
The key way is higher energy density. Whereas ethanol is around about two-thirds the energy density [of gasoline], with butanol we’re in the high eighties [in terms of percent].
It’s less volatile [than ethanol]. It isn’t as corrosive, so we don’t have issues with it at higher concentrations beginning to eat at aluminum or polymer components in fuel systems and dispensing systems. And it’s not as hydroscopic–it doesn’t pick up water, which is what ethanol can do if you put it in relatively low concentrations. So we can put it through pipelines.
Related: Biobutanol – the overlooked biofuel