BP’s Bet on Butanol

Most people know ethanol is far from perfect.  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.  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.  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.  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.

[TechnologyReview]

Related: Biobutanol – the overlooked biofuel

2 thoughts on “BP’s Bet on Butanol

  1. (Drexel Plasma Institute and W2 Energy)

    I’d keep an eye on these guys. They have perfected a plasma syngas GTL process utilizing a number of bio and non bio feedstock’s. Last I heard the joint research project (Drexel Plasma Institute and W2 Energy) will reach its conclusion on Aug 30th, 2007. W2 Energy has already made statements they are committing monies to making the process a commercial reality. Biobutanol from their plasma Syngas reactor was one of the more resent statements published.

    http://www.w2energy.com
    http://plasma.mem.drexel.edu/publications/
    http://www.primenewswire.com/newsroom/news.html?cmd=search&searchby=sym&string=wwen&.submit.x=22&.submit.y=13

  2. (Drexel Plasma Institute and W2 Energy)

    I’d keep an eye on these guys. They have perfected a plasma syngas GTL process utilizing a number of bio and non bio feedstock’s. Last I heard the joint research project (Drexel Plasma Institute and W2 Energy) will reach its conclusion on Aug 30th, 2007. W2 Energy has already made statements they are committing monies to making the process a commercial reality. Biobutanol from their plasma Syngas reactor was one of the more resent statements published.

    http://www.w2energy.com
    http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release.do?id=745870
    http://plasma.mem.drexel.edu/publications/
    http://www.primenewswire.com/newsroom/news.html?cmd=search&searchby=sym&string=wwen&.submit.x=22&.submit.y=13

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