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Biofuels Entrepreneur Seeking £80M for Biobutanol Plant in Ireland

Telegraph. John Nichols, the co-founder and former chief executive of UK-based Biofuels Corporation, is trying to raise up to £80 million (US$156 million) to design and to build a biobutanol plant in the south of Ireland, which would use local sugar beets as the feedstock.

In 2006, BP and DuPont created a partnership to produce biobutanol, also from beet sugar. The resulting fuel is to be introduced in the UK this year as a gasoline bio-component. (Earlier post.)

Nicholas co-founded Biofuels Corporation in 2003, but stepped down as CEO in 2004 as the company struggled with production delays and financing problems. The company’s plant at Teeside has a capacity of 250,000 tonnes per year.

Nicholas has appointed MacArthur & Co, a boutique merchant bank, to run the fundraising process.

He said: “We are looking to create a diversified alternative fuel business in the south of Ireland. There are currently about 3,500 sugar beet farmers in Ireland, but none of them are growing sugar beet any more. We see that as creating an opportunity for us.”

Compared to ethanol, biobutanol—C4H10O, a four-carbon alcohol —has a number of advantages:

  • A lower vapor pressure than gasoline

  • An energy content closer to that of gasoline than ethanol.

  • The ability to be blended at higher concentrations than ethanol for use in standard vehicle engines. Currently biobutanol can blended up to 10% volume over volume (v/v) in European gasoline and 11.5%v/v in US gasoline. There is the potential in the future to increase the maximum allowable use in gasoline up to 16% volume.

  • Less susceptible to separation in the presence of water than ethanol/gasoline blends, enabling the use of existing distribution infrastructure without requiring modifications in blending facilities, storage tanks or retail station pumps.

  • Potential for co-blending with ethanol to improve overall fuel properties.

  • Potentially suitable for transport in pipelines, unlike existing biofuels.

Fuel Properties
Boiling point °F 173 181
RVP psi 2.8 2.7
Heat of Combustion BTU/gallon US 76,000 93,000
Heat of Vaporization BTU/gallon US 2,600 1,700
RON 111 113



Rafael Seidl

Sounds good, as long as the EU doesn't end up subsidizing the sugar beet farmers again - last time it took a formal WTO verdict to break the entrenched system. Biofuels ought to be profitable in their own right at current crude oil prices.

No word here on the process Mr. Nichols intends to use to create the butanol from starch. There are several competing biological processing systems out there, with very different yields.


I'am afraid that most, if not all, of the interest in biofuels is in fact driven by the intoxicating scent of subsidy.


Seems to be a lot of motivation our there uncontaminated by subsidy up until now.

What's wrong with that anyway. Even big oil is subsidized.


Butanol looks like a better fuel than ethanol, but seems to lag in usage, presumably as noone has figured out an efficient way to produce it.

So lets hope they do - here or elsewhere.

You have to wonder on the wisdom of trying to grow biofuels at 53 degrees north, but maybe they can use the long summer days.

But if they can figure out how to develop biofuels - for transport and power generation / heating, we will all be better off.


Food crops for fuel just doesn't feel right to me -


I imagine the same equipment can be used to ferment sugars from algae. Sugar beets are a temporary stepping stone. (I hope)

Harvey D.

Lucas: I agree with you. Big Oil Cos. (with their huge profits) are still subsidized at the rate of $1.5 billion/year in Canada. I find nothing wrong with the same $1.5 billion/year going for the production of cleaner fuels such as cellulosic ethanol and butanol.

In fact, fossil fuel subsidies should be completely phased out and progressively replaced with a fossil fuel tax to finance cleaner alternative fuel + batteries + alternative energies research and development and transistion to PHEVs and BEVs.

Certain countries (such as Canada and USA) with large food surpluses can afford to use part of those surpluses to produce alternative fuels.

Bill Lowers

I am a director of a company in the USA called Environmental Energy, Inc. Our president, Mr. David Ramey, has invented and patented (USA Patent) a continuous method to produce BioButanol (tm) from a variety of feedstocks, including whey from cheesemaking, which is a disposal problem for daries.

It takes 14 pounds of sugar from whatever source to make a gallon of butanol. If the source is sugar cane, sugar beets, grasses, weeds such as kudzu, kiwi fruit, whatever, if sugar can be extracted it can be used as feedstock for the making of alcohols.

Ethanol uses an aerobic batch process using a yeast to convert the sugar to a two-carbon alcohol.

BioButanol (tm) has previously been manufactured in an anerobic batch process, and that process in the past has had a down side of also producing acetone and ethanol as well as butanol. David Ramey has invented a method to continuously produce butanol in a closed system, which extracts the butanol as it is produced, leaving the process intact, which allows the continued production, without the burdens placed on the manufacturing plant due to batch processing. These down sides include interrupted production, and significnt labor costs.

Mr. Ramey has, on several occasions ran this process continuously (at lab scale) for over one year, proving the concept of continuous production. The only thing Mr. Ramey lacks is investors. He believes (and so do I) that we can be in large scale production in the 3-5 year time frame, provided investors can be found. Environmental's website is:

Environmental Energy home page

Obviously, we are seeking investors, and I hope no one reading this post thinks we are advertising here. My goal is to make people aware of some things about butanol, and that alternative technologies that do not rely on DNA engineered micro organisms to increase yield, which many of the experimenters are putting their resources into.

John Schreiber

I sent you guys an email on June 25, 06 to contact Vinod Khosla ( for funding, and I also sent him a link to your site at the same
time. In fact I suggested that he use a different term to describe fuel alcohols, and biohol was the one he chose.
Have you approached Khosla, and if so what was the outcome?


Currently we are moving to new dedicated server where we are going to provide wide, interactive platform for energy, and climate issues enthusiasts and professionals. We are going to start as of 01.Junne 2007. You are all wellcome to live your comments, write articles, or simply pass by.

stephen Finch

DEar Sir
I have a small Ethanol/Butanol pilot in Hawaii, and operated and Engineered and ran an Ethanol/DME plant for 12 years.I could build you one at a Capitol cost of $1.85US per gallon. Without the use of distillation.
Steve Finch 1-662-617-4426

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