Sunday, May 4, 2008


My project was on Bio-Butanol. Butanol is a cousin of Ethanol, both are ethyl alcohols that can be derived from common feedstocks and used for transportation fuel, but my project aimed at proving bio-butanol was better.
Ethanol was originally favored over butanol because the refining process was easier and less energy intensive. however, there have recently been great strides in butanol refining such as the manipulation of the microbes used in the process to make it more economic. Butanol has a higher energy content than ethanol. Butanol is non corrosive, which means that it can use existing infrastructure such as pipelines, and replace gasoline in cars with no new additions. Whereas most companies are looking at a 10% ethanol mix BP is looking at a 16% butanol mix, which means you would use less gas. A by product of the butanol refining process is hydrogen which can be used to fuel the refinery saving energy. The fact that butanol could be shipped in pipelines and not trucked also saves energy that would be used in the production and transport of ethanol.
There are some hurdles to it's adoption. It is not currently economic to produce, there is existing ethanol infrastructure such as refineries, and most of the bio-fuels incentives do not include butanol.
BP and DuPont have partnered to build a large butanol refinery in England. They will actually be refitting an existing ethanol refinery to be a butanol refinery. They are putting a lot of effort into this, as is demonstrated by the fact that they have over 60 butanol related patent applications
My reccomendations are that butanol be included in all future legislation as an equal to ethanol. The government provide incentives to change ethanol refineries into butanol refineries. Generally encourage more poeple to examine butanol as a fuel source. The State Energy Conservation Office of texas and the University of Texas have no current projects involving butanol and this needs to change.
A big opportunity may come in the next year when a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement comes online, which could potentially allow the U.S. market to be flooded with cheap Mexican sugar. If this happens the sugar beet growers in the upper northwest would be out of business. One thing they are considering is to truck the undrefined sugar to a ethanol refinery in Michigan. This would be a high energy input. I suggest that instead they build smaller butanol refineries closer to the fields and use the existing oil and gas infrastructure to transport it.

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