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November 14, 2008


Tom G.

When I first read about biobutanol several years ago I thought it had lots of promise. It sounded like the transition fuel we need until we can become an electric driven society. It also sounds like a better solution than ethanol.

Robert G. Schreib Jr.

WOW! This Cobalt Biofuels may be making a BIG dent in our oil requirements! this is terrfic news! Anyway, a recap here of an idea I already send to DOE and all over the Internet, if we got a virtually endless supply of raw sewage from our cities, couldn't we plow the sewage under areas banned by the EPA for being toxic waste dumps, and use those no food crops ever fields for growing BioFuel plants exclusively, and FOREVER, so that we could eliminate our sewage problem, do something profitable with toxic waste areas, and leave the corn alone for feeding a starving world?


I'm so glad to see that there are people who think that oil isn't the only source of energy for automotive and other industries.
Divertas delectat, says a latin proverb.
More diverse sources of energy we got more independent we are; and less susceptible to blackmail we get also.


As a microbiologist I would say generating butanol, instead of ethanol, using fermentaion of sugars, is the ultimate natural way of making high energy hydrocarbons; this is how nature made petroleum in the first place. I am very excited and hope that the "big boys" will not get involved and find ways of undercutting the company.


good news, it is very worrying the effect on food production and availability that ethanol presents. I have second thoughts about using an ethanol blend these days. A better option should be at hand.


While better by far than ethanol (assuming the production issues can be met), butanol production still has many of the problems asociated with ethanol. The chief longterm issue, is what is the effect on soil fertility, i.e. is it sustainable for the long haul? And there is always the issue of competition for natural (or nearly natural) land, versus biofuels, versus food production. Land that is near the boundaries of one use or the other could get converted to the less natural use, by the pressure for biofuels.

Also, we have to be honest about the volume of fuel we can produce this way. The worst outcome would be the message "oil problem solved", when if fact we only have a replacement for a small fraction of our current usage.

Mark CR UK


Regular readers of The Energy Blog will know that Dupont and BP already have an ongoing relationship generating this technology.

Ultimately the only limitation of this technology like Ethanol is the feedstock issue. Carbohydrates to Fuel is limited by the feedstock.

Lignin-Cellulosic Biobutanol / Ethanol / Methanol will do far more than existing (and controversial) Corn Ethanol.

But again these should be based on fast growing (non damaging) fuel crops or municipal wastes rather than edible crops.

Rick L.

Big Tom knows what he is talking about. Butanol is still dangerous for the reasons that Big Tom talked about. Great points and great article. Thanks a bunch, Rick L.

Mark CR UK

"Butanol is still dangerous"

Thats an emotive and misleading statement if ever I heard one.

And its not like I didn't acknowledge the issues in the previous statement.

Organic Grog

Every had great responses.

Cyril R.

BigTom: those are valid concerns.

Although, I imagine that bringing not too large a percentage of the biomass back into the soil in the form of agrichar will help a lot with soil fertility. Combined with carefully returning as much nutrients as possible into the soil, for example by converting the residues into organic fertilizer, and returning that where the biomass was harvested, should alleviate most issues. Occasional crop switching and other techniques can help also. Reducing the amount of water used also appears possible with different plant species.

Perhaps we should stimultate combined heat and power to supply the input heat energy for producing the alcohols. Nuclear and geothermal look very suitable for this purpose.

The food vs fuel is a relevant concern, but it depends on what scale we're talking about. As long as the backbone of our energy and transportation economy is electric, perhaps the impacts from bio-energy as supplemental energy sources could be found acceptable. For example, there are large amounts of corn stover and other agriwaste that are not used very effectively right now. Quite a bit of biomass can also be harvested from forestry and such, as long as the amounts removed per hectare aren't too big (need more thorough scientific study on the limits and impacts of this though). If the harvesting is done not too invasively, and if some of the biomass is returned as agrichar, and the nutrients also, I see no reason why it couldn't score well on the sustainability criteria.

Cyril R.

Robert G: it is probably more cost effective and practical to use the sewage as feed for digesters with biogas harvesting, and seperate the nutrients for production of organic fertilizer. The total amount of net energy gain from sewage isn't very large compared to our current oil use anyway.

What Americans need but often don't want to hear is that they have to stop guzzling gasoline.

Cyril R.

And guzzling biobutanol isn't going to solve the problem, before you get any funny ideas.


It would really be good if we could become energy self-sufficient in the near future. We have depended on foreign oil for too long now. This is really exciting research!

Jim Vitolo

I don't know about biobutanol. It might not be safe enough for the long term future.


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Frank Negolfka

I agree with Jim Vitolo. Biobutanol can be very harmful towards soil fertility. Over the long haul it could a bad affect on soil. I just don't think this is the right answer.


Biobutanol kills the cells that produce it at 1.3%. Isn't it closer to 15% for ethanol? It seems like some good old engineering is helping with the energy and water savings, but they better have some biologists on this as well. Is this anything like what Steven Chu did at LBNL?


This is quite a comprehensive and insightful guideline on Biobutanol and its probable usage. I guess more and more of us should come forward to promote the development of bio-fuels.

Alternative Energy

There doesn't appear to be any single biofuel that can replace gasoline... Perhaps we need to consider multiple sources of fuel and multiple types of vehicles. Some for short range others for long range, etc. Some that are hybrid... some all battery... some solar and battery... etc.

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I guess more and more of us should come forward to promote the development of bio-fuels.

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It seems like some good old engineering is helping with the energy and water savings

Ronald Brak

Fermation derived biofuels have great potential for protecting the environment because the fermentation process gives off almost pure CO2 which can sequestered making the process carbon negative. In the future you might be able to buy carbon neutral fuel for your car that is half conventional gasoline and half biobutanol.

Ritu Kesarwani

A lot has been talked and discussed about n-butanol as a potential gasoline blend fuel and its advantages but very less has been talked and researched about butnaol
as a DIESEL-blend fuel. I have been working on “butnaol as a fuel” for more than two years, I have studied, researched and analyzed n-butanol’s properties as a
gasoline blend fuel as well as a diesel blend fuel. More I went into depth more I started liking to see this fuel as a full blown fuel in either way, the simple
reason is blending of butnaol improves the various shortcomings of the diesel like lubricity, oxidative properties, shelflife, cold flow properies and cold flow performance.


Ritu Kesarwani

Dr Liao's process can produce butanol upto concentration 4%, we can hope for concentration more than 7-8% may in near future.


Henry Gibson

Operate the fermenters at a pressure which allows butane to be liquid. The butane will float on the the fermenting material and absorb the butanol from the water mix. Mixers from Pursuit-dynamics can be used to speed the separation of butanol from the water into the liquid butane. The butane is allowed to absorb a lot of butanol and then is moved to a separation still. After separation the butane is recompressed to liquid and the heat developed is used for separating more butane from Butanol. The butane is sent to absorb more butanol from the fermentors. It could also be possible to use pentane or even perhaps hexane. CO2 is absorbed by amines in chambers connected to the fermentors and liquified. It can be used with hydrogen to feed energy and carbon to the fermenters to make more liquid fuels. The CO2 may have to be reacted with hydrogen to make CO and water first, and more hydrogen is also added. ..HG..

Utility Equipment

Interesting and informative site! Thanks for sharing.

Bucket Truck

I just really hope this new technology makes out sooner rater than later, because we need to cut green house gases AS soonest we can.

Boom Truck

What an interesting post!

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"With this round of funding Cobalt Biofuels will move aggressively toward commercial production of cost effective, non-food based biobutanol,” said Pamela Contag, President and CEO of Cobalt Biofuels. New Energy and Fuel reported that Cobalt is using these funds to expand from laboratory scale production to a pilot scale facility with a capacity of 35,000 gallons of fuel per year .

Nice information.

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Biobutanol (C4H10O) or butyl alcohol is a second generation biofuel that can be produced from biomass and can be used either as an industrial chemical or as a transportation fuel.
GOOD NEWS Thanks for sharing

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go biofuel! great energy.

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Butanol is the best known fuel. I think it is better for engines meant for gasoline use then gasoline itself. Butanol also beat hydrogen due to safety


Great post, thanks for the information.
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Keep growing.

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It is worth noting that one of the problems with Butanol is that at least up until this point, it has been impossible to produce it with a high proof. Therefore a lot of energy is required to distill the alcohol from the water.

Process Management

It sounds like a better solution than ethanol.....

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It sounds like a better solution than ethanol........

Bucket Trucks

Great Content Thanks for the post :)


Butyl alcohols have produced few cases of poisoning in industry because of their low volatility.


It is miscible with water as well as most common organic solvents.....Nice one...

Energy writers

Good content...keep it up...


This fuel is the future of cars, as Nobel said - to burn oil is more expencive than to burn a dollar bills. So - lets hope we will get such accumulators, solar batteries and ethanol to go on our technical progress.


Not just the future, it's the only sane choice. I'm not a fundamental oil hater, I just think it's retarded to burn oil. Forget climate change for a second and think about your ambient fossil fuel air...

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These are very useful thoughts that most of do not know.Good news after all.The presence of ethanol in food is scary though.

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Burning fuel is so expensive!! This was a very interesting post!! Great topic!! :)

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Good news. Generating butanol as a biofuel is a great idea, however, I feel we should also tap the free and abundantly available solar energy to convert into some form of energy that can be stored conveniently.

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Burning fuel is so expensive!! This was a very interesting post!!

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