Ethanol makers nationwide are considering retrofitting their ethanol plants to produce biobutanol, a biomass-based fuel more similar to gasoline than ethanol.
Biobutanol is also a potentially higher-value alternative fuel which can be produced by the fermentation of biomass by proprietary bacteria. It can be used as a fuel source but also a chemical building block for products like paint, plastic, food additives, and cosmetics. A switch to second-generation biobutanol is appealing to some ethanol producers, as many have struggled with high, drought-related corn prices.
A pilot biobutanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa is developing the bacterial, non-yeast fermentation process used to produce the alternative fuel.
Green Biologics, the U.S. unit of a British biotech firm, intends to invest millions of dollars in the Little Falls, Minn. ethanol plant to switch to normal butanol production. Additionally, Butamax Advanced Biofuels, the Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont and British Petroleum joint venture, will be retrofitting the Highwater Ethanol plant in Lamberton, Minn. to produce isobutanol.
Interest in biobutanol is likely being pushed forward by the interest in environmental issues, renewable fuel standard, and a need for renewable materials in green buildings.
“You have got to keep trying and moving the ball,” said Dave Frederickson, ethanol supporter and former Minn. state senator. “I don’t see a mass exodus from the ethanol industry,” he said as he expects the vast majority of the state’s ethanol plants to continue making ethanol.
Butamax starts biobutanol retrofit on ethanol plant, Domestic Fuel