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DuPont, BP and British Sugar Testify on Biofuels and Biobutanol before the House of Lords

1 August 2006

Executives from DuPont Biofuels Europe, BP and British Sugar recently testified before a subcommittee (European Union agricultural and environmental policies) of the UK House of Lords as part of the subcommittee’s Biofuels Inquiry.

BP and DuPont have formed a partnership to develop, produce and market next-generation biofuels to help meet increasing global demand for renewable transport fuels. The two companies have been working together since 2003 and are now ready to bring their first product to market: biobutanol, which will be introduced in the UK in 2007 as a gasoline bio-component. (Earlier post.)

In response to questions from the subcommittee, Philip New from BP Fuels Management Group, Chris Carter and Karl Carter of British Sugar plc, and Michael Dolan of DuPont Biofuels said that one of the key requirements for establishing an economically and environmentally sustainable biofuels industry in the European Union is the establishment of a consistent EU-wide policy with clearly defined objectives.

The existence of different regulatory mechanisms as well as different protected duty tariffs creates a risk of Balkanisation and distorted trade flows, according to Philip New.

An example would be the consequences of Germany’s relative generosity recently in the matter of waiving a mineral tax on biocomponents as a whole, which has led to an influx of biocomponents into Germany, therefore making it more difficult for Member States bordering Germany to be able to advance their own policy goals.

That is a small example but nonetheless one that we fear could have consequences in the future, creating a Balkanisation of both biofuels markets and potentially fuels markets as a whole. To that end, ensuring that policy is consistent with the principles of a Single European Market appears to us to be quite important.

It is a particular concern when we think about the potential introduction of ethanol as a direct blended component in gasoline which requires modifications to the base gasoline specification. This could constrain the free flow of gasoline between Member States and have a distorting impact on the market price of gasoline country-to-country, a phenomenon we call boutique fuels, which is widespread in America and has contributed in part to some of the supply disruptions that the US has seen, particularly on the East Coast, so far this year.

I think it also plays as an extension of that point into ensuring that product specifications remain consistent across Europe and that product fungibility is something that can be offered consistently as well. It again supports the idea of a relatively efficient market. So, broadly, the importance of the EU in ensuring there is consistency of legislation and that that legislation is consistently applied seems to us to be very important.

—Philip New

Achieving the EU biofuels target of 5.75% of energy content in fuels by 2010 will be “difficult, if not impossible,” according to New. This is partly due to inconsistent regulations, which, for example, limit the amount of ethanol and biodiesel that can go into their respective fuel pools to 5%.

Biobutanol, however, “has a capability to be used in existing fuels under existing regulations at a rate of ten per cent, as opposed to five per cent for ethanol,” according to Michael Dolan from DuPont.

If the EU were to change the oxygenate limits in its gasoline specification, which I understand is something it is considering at the moment, to 3.5 per cent, that would constrain ethanol to being a ten per cent component, but under those circumstances butanol could be present at up to 16 per cent. Given the higher energy content of butanol, effectively this would double the energy from renewable sources per litre of gasoline, so we see it as a quite important potential tool for enabling the acceleration of the use of bioproducts.

—Philip New

Dolan noted that he expects cellulosic biofuels in the market within the 2011 to 2013 time-frame.

We do also look at other technologies, technologies where you would combine the ability to break down cellulose with the ability to ferment a biofuel in the same organism, what we would call consolidated bioprocessing.

That is something that we are very actively watching as a possibility going forward, but I think it is fair to say that our belief is that that technology is probably ten years out. It offers potential for advantages but I think the industry will start initially to use enzymes before we would look at more sophisticated technologies that would overlay on the enzyme technology.

—Michael Dolan

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August 1, 2006 in Biobutanol, Cellulosic ethanol, Europe, Policy | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

Good to see a big player on the butanol front really moving things along. ARCO is a part of BP now, so I'm hoping that we get this tech they're developing over in the US pretty soon.

Ah, butenol, the holy grail of biofuels...

Just as much energy as gasoline, higher oxygen content, not water soluble, can be used "straight" right in existing automobiles...

The only negative I can think of is it smells kind of bad, but I could get used to it.

This is an area of research I believe the US needs to fund. Right now most celulosic processes generate aboout half as much Butenol as Ethanol, so it seems obvious whic fuel should be used at this moment - but as soon as fuel yields can be raised up to the same level as Ethanol, I think Butenol can go much farther with respect to replacing petroleum based products for out transportation fuels.

Man, I'd kill to know who to invest in right now relating to this technology. I could deal with being a millionaire ;-)

Peace,
Cosmo

Gasoline with 10% butanol makes more sense to me than gasoline with 10% ethanol.

Cosmo:

DuPont Biofuel + BP may have a sustainable head start and may gain from n-butanol. Secondly, they are already two profitable firms. You could hardly loose with those two.

I don't care what we use as long as it's renewable and gets us off petroleum based fuels. Then we can tell Venezuela and the oil shieks what to go do with themselves. >:)

Mark R. W. Jr.
Not all of the world is suted for biomass derived fuel. Parts of Europe and Asia are either too dry or densly populated to support the pop. and fuel. If we (and a few other significant consummers) go green, the demand will rise (from the PRC specifically) with the initial decreased prices. Often, money is not the only thing to flow to the oil suppliers from the PRC. Weapons do as well, specifically missiles, and other sophisticated power projection instruments.
_
___Even if the world does not need them anymore for their energy/oil, they are situated along key trade routes, and do have a market and population. The Saudis, Yemenis, and Sundanese have the Red Sea, with the Suezmax traffic between Asia and Europe. Venezuela is near the Panama Canal, and borders Brazil and Columbia (drugs, war, and trafficing).
_
___Another fact is that many Sheikdoms, small ones especially, are spending their money wisely. Look at Qatar and UAE's Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they are investing in infrastructure and projects that will generate lasting and large returns.

Butanol sounds good, but I think that something like pentanol would be the "holy grail" as it would seperate out of aqueous solution without the need for distillation, improving EROEI substantially, and thus also preventing buildup of toxic endproducts that would kill the organisms doing the synthesis.

I can't seem to find much information regarding the use of pentanol as a fuel. One of the main advantages of butanol is that is should not require any changes to existing engines. Can the same be said of pentanol? I'm assuming it's energy content is even higher, closer to that of diesel fuel?

butanol require no changes?

I know 1 MAJOR problem with butanol, RVP. Reid vapor pressure is how much the fuel "evaporates". In an engine, this property determines the cold starting ability of the fuel. Since butanol is substantially lower than ethanol (.33 psi vs 2 psi),(ethanol can barely start in the cold) some modifications to engines will have to be made to ensure that butanol can start in cold climates.


Just to clarify the RVP issue--the low RVP of ethanol is only an issue if you're using very high ethanol blends (eg E85, which is actually E70 or so in the winter). In low percentage blends like E10, the ethanol actually contributes to a too high RVP, and in that case butanol is an advantage because of the lower RVP of an equivalent percentage blend. So as long as the major use of biofuel is as a 10-20% blend (which I think is fair so say for the forseeable future), RVP is a plus for butanol relative to ethanol.

And with respect to pentanol--it's a lot harder to get a fermentation to make pentanol than butanol, and on top of that, even though it does separate out from water at a lower concentration than butanol, it's sufficiently more toxic that it will still kill just about any bug you can think of at concentrations below the solubility limit, ie, by the time it separates out, the bugs are already dead.

I'm likely ignorant on the impact of butanol on current engines. My ascertion was totally based on EEI's claim, which I'm sure was not fully tested under all conditions.

Butanol can be used in any gasoline engine without modification. It is non-corrosive unlike ethanol and methanol, and has similar energy density to gasoline, and a higher octane rating. Isobutanol has an octane rating of approx. 105, n-butanol has an octane of approx 83. If you consider using straight butanol, or n-butanol aka. n-buty alcohol, keep in mind it's flash point is 35 degrees C as opposed to 28 degrees C for isobutanol, aka isobutyl alcohol. If you are concerned about lubricity, add 2-stroke engine oil at at ratio around 1000:1. Cold starting is generally not of concern because cylinder temperature should be hundreds of degrees C nearing end of the compression stroke before ignition take place. In colder climates, the higher flash point may cause difficulty starting, but will not prevent starting. If starting is an issue add 5-10% acetone, hexane, or toluene. Keep in mind the acetone will increase octane rating and hexane will decrease octane rating, while toluene will negligible effect. Personally, I run a blend of 5% acetone, 30% toluene, and 65% isobutyl alcohol, and 2-stroke castor oil at ratio of 1000:1.

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