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Boosting Biomass-to...Butanol?

Butanol_roadtrip
From Ohio to California and back on butanol.

An Ohio inventor has taken to the road to promote butanol as an alternative fuel to ethanol as well as his process for producing it from the anaerobic fermentation of biomass waste. The two-stage, dual-path process, which relies on two different Clostridia strains (earlier post), also yields hydrogen as a product.

According to the inventor, David Ramey, his butanol process delivers about 42% more energy than ethanol for a given amount of feedstock, based on the higher energy content of butanol (some 25% greater than ethanol), plus the hydrogen.

Select Properties
ButanolEthanolGasoline
a David Ramey, Environmental Engineering, Inc.
b EIA Annual Energy Review, Appendix A1
Formula C4H10O C2H6O Many
BTU/gallon 105K a 84K b 123K b
Vapor Pressure @ 100 F 0.33 psi 2.0 psi 4.5 psi
Air-to-fuel ratio 11.1 9 12–15

Butanol (C4H10O) is a four-carbon alcohol in widespread use as an industrial solvent, with a US market size of some 370 million gallons per year at a price of about $3.75 per gallon (approximately $1.4 billion).

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.

In conventional fermentations, the butanol yield from glucose is low—between 15%–25%—and the butanol concentration in the fermentation is usually lower than 1.3%. (Butanol at a concentration of 1% can significantly inhibit cell growth and the fermentation process.) There have been numerous efforts over the years to improve butanol yield by using a variety of techniques to minimize product inhibition.

Butanoltobiomass
Environmental Energy Inc.’s Biomass-to-Butanol Process

Ramey took the approach of using two types of microbes in two separate process steps. Other processes had tried multiple strains of bacteria, but in synergy within the same slurry.

The first, Clostridium tyrobutyricum, optimizes the production of hydrogen and butyric acid, while the other, Clostridium acetobutylicum, converts the butyric acid to butanol. (Diagram at right, Click to enlarge.)

Ramey claims his butanol yield from this process is 42% from glucose.

The conventional fermentation process produced a number of products as well as butanol: acetic, lactic and propionic acids, acetone, isopropanol and ethanol production. Ramey’s fermentation only produces hydrogen, butyric acid, butanol and carbon dioxide, and doubles the yield of butanol from a bushel of corn from 1.3 to 2.5 gallons per bushel—equivalent to corn ethanol’s fermentative yield, but with higher heat content and hydrogen as a co-product.

Butanol’s 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.

As good as that might sound, however, there are a number of unknows.

Primarily, the economics of production using Ramey’s process are unproven. He is seeking some $3 million to build a 250-gallon/week prototype and then a 1,250-gallon/week pilot plant. (From 1991, his company, Environmental Energy, Inc., has operated on $1.5 million provided by 40 private investors and by several federal research grants.)

He has produced butanol from his process in small amounts here and there—but for the promotional drive, he and his team bought four barrels of conventional butanol from Ashland Chemical.

Assuming he finds his funding, and the process scales, his plans call initially to sell the butanol into the commercial solvents market to generate a sustainable revenue stream. (It’s a big, existing market, always on the lookout for a less expensive product.)

Ramey ultimately envisions small, turnkey biorefineries of 5 to 30 million gallons per year capacity for small municipalities and surrounding farming communities that would produce butanol as a gasoline substitute.

Resources:

(A hat-tip to Robert Schwartz!)

Comments

Harry Garner

Hi, my name is Harry Garner and recently I was introduced to the idea of a new fuel type called Butanol by a good friend who is in the automechanics dept. @ college. His instructor encouraged him to engage his curiosity on the topic of making butanol. We do know that there is someone out there already making butanol at home in order to help with the economy and for personal use only... I was wondering if anyone had any input on the process of how my friend and I can make our own butanol at home. To my knowledge, a simple alcohol still is used, we would already be in the process of making one, except we do not know the chemical makeup or mixture that goes into making butanol at home... If there is anyone out there who can help me please send me an email @ LvsckHarry@yahoo.com... Thanks for your time.

Dave Higgins

It's about time we all (collectively and individually) started taking control of our future and embrace an approach that obviously possesses so many benefits for consumers and the environment. It's a win-win situation. I note the comments about "big oil" and fully agree. Not unlike the plethora of lies associated with "dwindling supplies" and "costs of production" being passed along to the consumer, we need to ensure that these monolythic bastards don't exploit us further in the butanol domain. There is nothing to to hold us back from progressing to a system whereby biomass conversion of waste and low-value materials provides us with a fully viable, hell preferable fuel source that outperforms fossil-based fuels, with the added environmental benefits, for a fraction of the cost per gallon of what we're being raped over now. I personally believe that good old American free enterprise and inherent ingenuity will carry the day, as long as we keep it relatively grass roots and communial (i.e., let the Exxons and BPs of the world get involved, but let them know they're going to have to compete). I think 80 cent a gallon alternative fuel is not only feasible, it's readily available. Let's get to it!

Dave Higgins

It's about time we all (collectively and individually) started taking control of our future and embrace an approach that obviously possesses so many benefits for consumers and the environment. It's a win-win situation. I note the comments about "big oil" and fully agree. Not unlike the plethora of lies associated with "dwindling supplies" and "costs of production" being passed along to the consumer, we need to ensure that these monolythic bastards don't exploit us further in the butanol domain. There is nothing to to hold us back from progressing to a system whereby biomass conversion of waste and low-value materials provides us with a fully viable -- hell, preferable -- fuel source that outperforms fossil-based fuels, with the added environmental benefits, for a fraction of the cost per gallon of what we're being raped over now. I personally believe that good old American free enterprise and inherent ingenuity will carry the day, as long as we keep it relatively grass roots and communal (i.e., let the Exxons and BPs of the world get involved, but let them know they're going to have to compete). I think 80 cent a gallon alternative fuel is not only feasible, it's readily available. Let's get to it!

richard

It would be very cool if some company out there or individual would/could sell a home butonal making kit with all needed equipment and ingrediants to get one started.

Irene

I've been reading up on biofuels. I'm interested in producing butanol at home for my own use. Can anyone send me any information as to HOW to make it? my e-mail address is irenechivers@aim.com
thanks & God Bless You!

neville ford

one alternative is to prohibit motoring in cities allow only country to reduce demand ,oil will run out eventually

John

There is a guy in South Africa who makes ethanol in a continous flow method of fermentation - ie not batch by batch . He reduced fermentation time to just over an hour from a traditional batch process taking days or more. Is there a way of making butanol in a similar manner?

gaspower

Following these years of the conversation of butanol to vehicle fuel, the question up and remains; does this mr. David Ramey´s founded company still exist, and if so, where in tellus/status? answer to sijoitustuotto@gmail.com

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