BP and DuPont have created 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.
The companies are leveraging DuPont’s biotechnology and bio-manufacturing capabilities with BP’s fuels technology expertise and market know-how. By pooling their knowledge and expertise, the two companies aim to be the world leaders in the development and production of advanced biofuels, driving the growth of biofuels, which today account for less than two percent of global transportation fuels. Current projections show that biofuels could represent up to 20-30% of the transport fuel mix in key markets.
Bio-butanol. 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.
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. (Earlier post.)
Bio-butanol’s low vapor pressure and its tolerance to water contamination in gasoline blends facilitate its use in existing gasoline supply and distribution channels. It has the potential to be blended into gasoline at larger concentrations than existing biofuels without the need to retrofit vehicles and it offers better fuel economy than gasoline-ethanol blends, improving a car’s fuel efficiency and mileage.
DuPont and BP are currently in the process of carrying out detailed calculations of biobutanol’s greenhouse gases Well-to-Wheel Life Cycle Analysis emission performance. Initial indications are that, on the same feedstock basis, biobutanol can deliver emission reductions that are at least as good as ethanol on the same basis.
Bio-butanol also enhances the performance of ethanol blends in gasoline by, amongst other things, reducing ethanol’s impact on vapor pressure, one of the issues which hampers a wider use of ethanol in existing gasoline distribution channels.
For the bio-butanol launch, BP and DuPont are working with British Sugar, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods plc, to convert the country’s first ethanol fermentation facility to produce bio-butanol. Additional global capacity will be introduced as market conditions dictate and a feasibility study in conjunction with British Sugar is already underway to examine the possibility of constructing larger facilities in the UK.
Transportation is an important area to address [for the reduction of greenhouse gases] since it accounts for around 20 per cent of global emissions and in the short to medium term increased blending of biocomponents represents one of the few real options for progress in this area on a global scale.—Lord Browne, CEO of BP
Initial production of bio-butanol will be based on an existing technology, enabling early commercial market introduction. In addition, development work on a new biotechnology process which aims to produce bio-butanol competitively with ethanol is already underway.
Production is planned to utilize a range of feedstocks such as sugar cane or beet, corn, wheat, or cassava and, in the future, cellulosic feedstocks from fast growing energy crops such as grasses or agricultural byproducts such as straw and corn stalks. Since production of bio-butanol is similar to ethanol and uses similar feedstocks, existing ethanol capacity can be retrofitted to produce bio-butanol.
BP also recently announced it plans to spend $500 million over the next ten years to establish a dedicated biosciences energy research laboratory attached to a major academic center in the US or UK. (Earlier post.)