January 21, 2007

BioButanol from Cellulosic Bioconversion

One product from bioconversion that is getting recent press is biobutanol - a non-corrosive biofuel similar to ethanol with energy content similar to gasoline that can be mixed with gasoline.

Here is story from Green Car Congress about Green Biologics, a company that is using hydrolysis with patented bacteria to convert biomass into biobutanol.

Green Biologics Awarded £560,000 for Cellulosic Biobutanol Development

Green Biologics (GBL), an Oxfordshire (UK) biotechnology company, has received £560,000 (US$1.1 million) in funding to support the development of its fuel biobutanol product—Butafuel—from cellulosic biomass. The Department of Trade and Industry-led Technology Program is providing £250,000 (US$494,000), and shareholder investors and business angels are providing the rest.

Using its library of thermophiles and thermostable enzymes, GBL has isolated a cocktail of thermophilic microorganisms for the rapid enzymatic hydrolysis and release of fermentable sugars from biomass. The company plans to integrate this patented hydrolysis technology with a proprietary butanol fermentation process.

The major barrier to butanol production has been the high cost of the conventional starch fermentation process. Our expertise in microbial strain development, together with EKB’s innovative process technology and the use of non-edible food stocks, should lead to a step change in the economic viability of the manufacturing process—we are aiming for a two- to three-fold reduction in cost. We are effectively using our knowledge of enzymology, microbial physiology and fermentation to optimize and ‘re-commercialize’ the butanol fermentation process.
—Dr Edward Green, Green Biologics Founder & CEO

Butanol (C4H10O) is a four-carbon alcohol in widespread use as an industrial solvent. Originally produced by fermentation starting nearly 90 years ago (using Clostridia acetobutylicum), butanol shifted to becoming a petrochemically-derived product in the 1950s as the price of petrochemicals dropped below that of starch and sugar substrates such as corn and molasses. Virtually all of the butanol is use today is produced petrochemically.

Butanol has a number of attractive properties as a fuel. Its energy content is closer to gasoline than ethanol’s. It is non-corrosive, can be distributed through existing pipelines, and can be—but does not have to be—blended with fossil fuels. Butanol itself could be reformed for hydrogen for use in fuel cells, and the production process itself produces hydrogen.

In June 2006, BP and DuPont recently announced a collaboration with British Sugar to produce biobutanol in the UK. BP provides a route for butanol into the transport fuel market and aims to blend butanol with gasoline at its 1,200 filling stations.

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