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DuPont and BP Partnership Targeting Multiple Butanol Molecules; Testing 16% Blends

The DuPont and BP partnership to develop and commercialize biobutanol (earlier post) is targeting advanced metabolic pathways for 1-butanol as well as other higher-octane biobutanol isomers. Testing of these advanced biofuels has demonstrated that the use of biobutanol can increase the blending of biofuels in gasoline beyond the current 10% limit for ethanol without compromising performance.

Speaking at the Agra Informa Next Generation Biofuels conference in Hamburg, Germany, DuPont Biofuels Venture Manager David Anton and BP Biofuels Business Technology Manager Ian Dobson disclosed that the partnership has been developing biocatalysts to produce 1-butanol as well as 2-butanol and iso-butanol—higher octane biobutanol isomers that are of increased interest and utility from a fuels perspective.

Fuel testing conducted over the last 12 months by BP demonstrates that high octane biobutanol can deliver the performance characteristics the partnership has previously communicated (including improved energy density/fuel economy compared to current biofuel blends and use in existing fuels infrastructure) at fuel blends greater than the current 10% ethanol blend limit.

Test data presented in 2007 indicated that biobutanol fuel blends at a nominal 10 vol% level perform very similarly to unleaded gasoline fuel. Additionally, the energy density of biobutanol is closer to unleaded gasoline—around 26-27 MJ/liter, compared to 21-22 MJ/l for bioethanol and 32-33 MJ/l for gasoline. (Earlier post.)

Under the partnership, there currently are more than 60 patent applications in the areas of biology, fermentation processing, chemistry and end uses for biobutanol. The program is designed to deliver by 2010 a superior biobutanol manufacturing process with economics equivalent to ethanol.

DuPont disclosed that those patents cover the higher octane isomers as well as the previously announced 1-butanol.

We believe this places the BP/DuPont partnership in a strong intellectual property position in the butanol areas of greatest interest.

—David Anton

16% Biobutanol Blends. Ian Dobson shared new BP engine and vehicle testing data that demonstrated high octane biobutanol at concentrations of 16% delivers similar fuel performance compared to current 10% ethanol blend gasoline fuels—meaning that biobutanol can help achieve higher biofuel penetration without compromising fuel performance.

BP has completed a testing program of 16% high octane butanol covering fuel formulation, short-term engine performance impacts and long-term, no harm and durability vehicle fleet trials.

Laboratory and vehicle assessment of butanol blends greater than 16% also have produced favorable test results. The results show that 16% high octane butanol blends have the added advantages of vapor pressure behavior and distillation curves comparable to regular gasoline and, unlike 10% ethanol, do not phase separate in the presence of water.

DuPont and BP have commissioned a full environmental life cycle analysis of the proposed biobutanol process that will utilize actual manufacturing design models to guide the process design.

On the basis of the vehicle test results we are now sharing, we believe that high octane butanol offers a way to break through the 10 percent constraint with ethanol in the current vehicle fleet.

—Ian Dobson



This partnership has been around for a while, is there anything that is actually new here? Haven't the characteristics of butanol been know for some time?


Weren't they saying they were gonna do this in Summer 2007?

Perhaps they hit a roadblock?

Wake me up when this actually goes retail. (Whenever that is)

Healthy Breeze

They said last year that they were building a facility that would create ethanol first, while they continued to develop their butanol processes.

They have to solve more problems to make butanol, because the existing microbes make a bunch of co-products, but not so much butanol. Being BP, they want to do it at a huge scale, and being Dupont, they want to do it with a proprietary process they can make oodles of money these guys were always looking for a hail-mary approach, rather than an incremental approach.


It seems like BP, Shell, Exxon and others all have synthetic fuels technologies. This tells me that they have given time and money to find solutions. I see nothing wrong with oil companies becoming synthetic fuel companies. They are large and well financed. They have huge distribution and worldwide presence. Energy in general and transportation energy in particular are such HUGE issues that it is going to take a lot of muscle to make a change.

Rafael Seidl

@ Neil -

there was anecdotal evidence that the existing car fleet in Europe would tolerate higher blends of butanol than of ethanol but a big oil company needs to actually conduct the requisite testing of elastomers, filters etc. Flex-fuel vehicles - of which there are few in Europe - should be able to tolerate Bu100, but again, someone would have to verify that.

One of the problems in scaling up biobutanol production has been that the traditional process delivers low yields and unwanted byproducts such as butyric acid. The bacteria involved are actually poisoned by excessive concentrations of butanol, their metabolic waste product. The race is therefore on to find or engineer bacteria that deliver higher yield and fewer unwanted byproducts.

That said, as with first-gen ethanol, the feedstock is glucose. It will take some time before researchers discover bacterial strains that can produce biobutanol isomers from the mix of simple sugars (mostly glucose & xylose) produced by pre-processing cellulosic feedstocks.

John O'Renick

Do selectively-permeable membranes simply let smaller molecules through while excluding larger ones? Or (do any of you know) might it be possible to engineer a membrane that would separate butanol from the fermentation substrate before concentrations get high enough to kill the bacteria?

Would butanol's 8% solubility in water get in the way? Or can selectively permeable membranes separate molecules that are dissolved together?

Is anyone working on bacteria/yeasts that make even heavier (than butanol) alcohols? Apparently those are not soluble in water, so they float to the top and make distillation unnecessary?

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