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RITE Develops Cellulosic Biobutanol for Blending in Diesel Fuels

The Nikkei reports that the Research Institute of Innovative Technology (RITE) has developed technology for producing cellulosic biobutanol for blending with diesel fuel.

Honda has been collaborating with RITE on the development of a process for the production of cellulosic ethanol. (Earlier post.) The RITE-Honda process uses a bacterial strain developed by RITE that ferments sugar into ethanol and applies Honda engineering technology to enable a “significant increase” in alcohol conversion efficiency in comparison to conventional cellulosic bio-ethanol production processes, according to the partners.

RITE’s biobutanol process also uses genetically modified microorganisms to ferment sugars resulting from the breakdown of cellulosic biomass, according to the report.

Testing commissioned by RITE and Honda R&D Co. confirmed negligible effects on diesel vehicle performance when the RITE biobutanol was mixed with diesel fuel.

RITE sees the biofuel as key to cutting greenhouse gases emitted from diesel vehicles. Once mass production begins, the fuel is seen costing almost the same to produce as bioethanol for gasoline-powered cars. RITE has already applied for an international patent on the technology.



"cellulosic biobutanol" - that would be a double word score.

Lets hope it is real - butanol sounds like a better fuel than ethanol, if you can produce it economically.

Add PHEV_bb for triple (buzz)word score.

P Schager

Evidently butanol has the rather remarkable property that it can be blended in considerable quantity, with no modifications to engines, to either gasoline or diesel fuel. Sort of a "Type O" universal additive. This raises the interesting prospect that you could have some of the fuel supply cast in butanol, or even some of the tankage at a gas station, and mix it with either to more flexibly adjust to supply and demand shifts. Prices bobbing up and down independently over various refinery issues etc. will be a thing of the past.

Of course, the fuel would need to be sold by the MJ (GGE) instead of by the gallon to account for the slightly variable energy density depending on mixture.


How come you don't hear near as much about butanol as you do about ethanol? Currently butanol is more expensive than gasoline but only because it is not mass produced. Is there some other downside that no one is mentioning? Is it too dangerous to store safely? Is it too toxic? Is it really any greener? Is it significantly less energy dense then gasoline / diesel fuel? Is it a matter of vested interests with respect to ethanol? Is there some other reason(s)?


No real downside relative to ethanol that I'm aware of. Ethanol is more common because we've known how to produce it using fermentation for thousands of years. I was easier to scale up grain based ethanol production to begin with. Vested interested? Of course. Many farmers in the USA are being subsidised to produce ethanol and love it. I sympathize. Farming is a tough life and it's tough to do well economically. This is really helping them. Not a good long term policy to use food for fuel though. ...unless the French Revolution on a world scale sounds like fun. I'd rather see cellulosic biobutanol with subsidised food farming.

Ethanol has some problems as a fuel. It is a more polar molecule and mix with water more easily than oil. (h2o is a very polar molecule with + charge at one end and - charge at other. Oil is made of very non-polar hydrocarbon molecules. This is why "oil and water don't mix". They tend to separate into layers.) This is great if you have it in a sealed can and put it in your gas to help dissolve water that is already in there, but not so good if the ethanol is just sitting around because it will draw in water vapor. Think this is the problem with transport ethanol using existing oil pipelines made of steel and why it corrodes these pipelines. Oil pipelines must be maintained as is.

Butanol is better choice for fuel. DuPont and BP are also working together on biobutanol production: (BP & DuPont partner up for bio-butanol development – Jun 2006) Update on DuPont Bio-Fuels efforts – March 2007 “ABF, BP and DuPont to Build $400M Bioethanol Plant and Biobutanol Demo Plant” – June 2007.


I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful answer to my question.

If you will indulge me a little further I have a some comments and follow up questions.

"I sympathize. Farming is a tough life and it's tough to do well economically. [Farmers producing ethanol] really helping them."

We are in agreement. I also think that any sound national energy policy would have us as self-sufficient as possible for a variety of reasons.

"Not a good long term policy to use food for fuel though..."

My boss got his car plastered with tortillas during the riots when he went down to check on our site in Juarez Mexico. I think you're right, you've obviously thought a lot about this.

"[Ethanol] mixes with water more easily than oil ...this is the problem with transport ethanol using existing oil pipelines made of steel and why it corrodes these pipelines."

Does butanol also have this problem?

"Butanol is better choice for fuel."

Better how? Cheaper? More energy dense? Less polluting? All of the above? Am I missing anything?

I've been fascinated with butanol ever since I learned that it can be run in existing internal combustion engines with little or no modification.

With little biodiesel resellers popping up I'm wondering how realistic it is to set up a similar "backyard refinery" for butanol particularly if it can be made from cellulosic materials. I wonder about safe storage however. Is it any safer or less safe than gasoline?

Thanks again,

Very best regards,


You're very welcome. I'm no expert but appreciate anothers interest in this subject. Thank you.

"Does butanol also have this problem?"
No, it does not. It can use existing fuel pipelines. I've read that ethanol has to be shipped by tanker truck.

"Better how?"
1. It can use existing fuel pipeline infrastructure, as just stated.
2. "Evidently butanol has the rather remarkable property that it can be blended in considerable quantity, with no modifications to engines, in either gasoline or diesel fuel." as P Schager and you yourself mention above. Higher concentrations of ethanol require modifications to internal combustion engines. This is where you get all the "flex fuel" vehicle non-sense from Detroit. I'd rather see butanol produced for old vehicles and new vehicle production infrastructure be devoted to PHEVs. Better long term investment.
3. I've read that butanol is better starting substrate for industrial plastics and fertilizer production. (I think ethanol can be used to produce poly-ethalene. I'm not sure about others.) My view is we have started to transition to electric ground tranportation. The battery technology is now here. Costs must come down. The transition will take a long time. (20 years, 30 years?) Long term we will want cellulosic butanol for industrial plastics, not for transportation. Why not plan for that now?

I'm not really sure which has the higher energy density. Can't remember. I have the general impression they are in same ball park. I think compatabiliy with current vehicles is important now and then I think we're going to PHEVs and then possibly EVs, so energy density seems a lesser consideration to me. You don't need to carry as much fuel in a Series PHEV.

I'm also not sure it is better or worse from environmental view point. Probably depends on specific refining/production technology. None of this fuel stuff is very environmentally clean. Industrial refining is a messy business.

I doubt it is any more dangerous than gasoline, but also don't know this.

Butanol is more difficult to produce than ethanol. Otherwise maybe more people would already be doing it. Not sure where you'd go to figure out how to do this. Think this is like cellulosic ethanol. You need to get pretty suffisicated to do it.

You already seem to know some about this.
Hope this helps some.


Thanks again MDS.

The advantages to refining either ethanol or butanol out of cellulosic materials is significant. It's the difference between machinery that competes with us for food (as you mentioned above) or machinery that runs off of waste (lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, construction waste, etc.) Switchgrass is perhaps an ideal fuel stock as it requires planting only once (perrenial), does not require fertilizing, watering or even pest control as does corn. I've heard that in Brazil, often referred to these days as the "Saudi Arabia" of ethanol, armed gangs are taking over sugarcane fields. I think you're right, fuel of any sort is not very "21st century". Electric and the means to charge it effectively (e.g. multi-spectrum solar cells,) is ultimately the way to go. However it is still exciting to see interim technologies coming along that solve a myriad of problems.


E85 is rubbish plan and simple. Gasoline real gas not the reformulated crap has 115000 btu/gal. E10 which us Dallasites are forced to buy has 110000-90000 btu a gallon depending on the additive package. Butanol has 110000 btu/gal btw thus its no better than RFG but its world ahead of E85 at 76000 btu/gal. As I commute to Austin on a weekly basis. I get real gas in one city and RFG in another. When I tank up in Dallas I get 285 miles on 15.6 gallons as thats when my fuel alert comes on. On the return trip with an identical 15.6 gals of real gas I get 319 miles till my fuel alert comes on. 225 miles of each tank is wide open motorway at 80 mph each way. The remander is mixed urban/exurban driving in each city. Still on real gas I get 34 more miles in urban traffic of Dallas. My Explorer is Flex fuel and E85 is avalible in the Metroplex but its not economical to use it as you need 1.6 times as much to go the same distance, and its not 62.5% of the cost of RFG. simple economics dictates that one uses RFG not ethanol. For alternative fuels to work they have to be competative in $/per km traveled. Still on this side of the pond fuel is so cheap even at $3 a gallon the average person can afford to drive a Chelsea tractor around solo. There is no underground here in the Metroplex, and the Autobus system is cumbersome to say the least.If one was to chose the autobus plan on spending at least an hour each way to go the 20-30 miles between work and home. Driving the same distance even in peak hour is a 25 min affair. Time is money in my line of work so $3 petro it is. one last point when will you Bloody yanks give up and go metric. having to learn miles and gallons for one country is absurd everyone looks at you like your crazy if you use metric, apparently who cares the rest of the world is standardized. Then again thats the typical attitude here who cares what the world thinks this is America were special. I will say thank you Yanks for makeing me a tiddy living over here, you complain about your tax code and I take great pleasure in paying American taxes compaired to the labor parties mess back home.

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