Biobased Butanol Info

Next Generation Biofuel


Industrial bioproduct


What is biobutanol?

Biobutanol or Biobased Butanol Fuel is second generation alcoholic fuel with a higher energy density and lower volatility vs. ethanol. Over a dozen companies are focused on developing biobutanol on commercial scale. This is a true biofuel for masses with potential of little or no impact on food supply and ability to compete favorably with $80 bbl oil. Effort is focused on both fermentation of sugars, starch and other biomass and through pyrolysis and reformulation of biomass.  The secondary appeal of biobutanol is its variety of commercial uses in an existing market worth over $5 billion dollars.

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Common questions:

Who are the biobutanol producers? How is biobutanol produced-fermentation and pyrolysis? Has butanol fuel been tested in vehicles? What are the common feedstocks for butanol?  What is the commercial timeline for biobutanol?

Common facts:

Biobutanol was first produced via fermentation a hundred years ago. Over 6.5 billion lbs of butanol are used yearly.  Not all biobutanol molecules are same-isobutanol has different properties vs. n-butanol. Companies like ButamaxGevoColbalt technologiesCathay continue to raise millions in funding.  Solar butanol fuel has been produced from CO2.


 Introductory Video

The following video presents an overview of biobutanol. Let us know your thoughts and comments.

What is Biobutanol?


biobutanol structure                Biobutanol, which is also sometimes called biogasoline, is an alcohol that is produced from biomass feedstocks. Butanol is a 4-carbon alcohol that is currently used as an industrial solvent in many wood finishing products. Biobutanol can be utilized in internal combustion engines as both a gasoline additive and or a fuel blend with gasoline. The energy content of biobutanol is 10% less than that of regular gasoline.  This is not as bad as energy density of ethanol is 40% lower.  Since biobutanol is more chemically similar to gasoline than ethanol, it can be integrated into regular internal combustion engines easier than ethanol. Its bioproduction route was halted in the 1960s due to high production price with respect to production from petroeum. New technology advancements and an increase in petroleum prices are making bioproduction of butanol more competitive and safer. Biobutanol has displayed the potential to reduce the carbon emissions by 85 percent when compared to gasoline, making it a superior alternative to gasoline and a gasoline-ethanol blended fuel.

How is biobutanol made?

                Biobutanol is made via fermentation of biomasses from substrates ranging from corn grain, corn stovers and other feedstocks. Microbes, specifically of the Clostridium acetobutylicum, are introduced to the sugars produced from the biomass. These sugars are broken down into various alcohols, which include ethanol and butanol. Unfortunately, a rise in alcohol concentration causes the butanol to be toxic to the microorganisms, killing them off after a period of time. This made the fermentation process expensive and unrealistic when compared to the petroleum costs of the late 50’s. Luckily, new technological advances and the discovery of new microbes have improved the efficiency and cost of the fermentation process tremendously. Through genetic engineering, researchers have been able to modify the most efficient microbes to be able to withstand high alcohol concentrations. New modifications are constantly being researched, including the modification to enzymes and genes involved in butanol formation from biomass fermentation.

A promising trend is a slew of recent ethanol fermentation plants purchases by biobutanol companies. These ethanol plants are being retrofitted with advanced separation systems to allow them to produce biobutanol. Since biobutanol has inherently higher value vs. bioethanol, the trend of the plant conversions is likely to continue.

Aside from fermentation, a handful of companies are pursuing pyrolysis biobutanol.  This route can convert waste biomass or crop waste into biobutanol. 

What are some recent developments for biobutanol?

                 Aside from the increasing popularity of biobutanol due to its advantages, the percent yield and speed of its production are dependant partially on the organisms which process the substrates. Efforts are currently underway to improve the existing microbes used for fermentation. Next major cost hurdle is separation costs of butanol from fermentation broth--several membrane based separation methods are under investigation which can reduce costs of biobutanl by 40-50%. Through a mixture of genetic engineering and membrane separation, biobutanol has a promising future.

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Further Reading

Huang, He, Hui Lui, and Yi-Ru Gan. "Genetic Modification of Critical Enzymes and Involved Genes in Butanol Biosynthesis from Biomass." Biotechnology Advances 471.1 (2010).

Dürre, Peter. "Biobutanol: An Attractive Biofuel." Biotechnology Journal 2.12 (2007): 1525-534.


" helped me learn about this exciting biobased solvent. I look forward to formulating with it."

- Leonard Shine, USA -