n-butanol - cute, isn't it?
Thanks to an alert John's World reader , I was led to this great energy blog post about biobutanol:
Be sure to check out the links in the text of this post. Good stuff.
The big open questions about butanol hinge on the ease and economics of its manufacture in current ethanol facilities, using similar feedstocks. The BP/DuPont partnership also indicates that the detailed well-to-wheels comparison of energy and greenhouse gas efficiency versus other fuels hasn't been completed. I'll reserve judgment until I see whether it beats ethanol in these areas, as well as in its physical properties. I'd also want to be sure that it's been carefully scrutinized for the sort of unintended consequences that cropped up with MTBE. That means looking closely at its toxicity pathways and co-solvent properties in gasoline blends exposed to water.
Biobutanol raises some fascinating possibilities for our alternate fuels strategy. Its properties remind us that ethanol, which many regard as our most available and practical gasoline substitute, falls well short of a being an ideal motor fuel, particularly for use in a distribution system dominated by petroleum products. Whether or not butanol is the best alternative, it highlights the option of using traditional and biotech-based processes to produce fuels that are optimal for use in modern internal combustion engines, as well as highly compatible with conventional fuel distribution channels. An alternate fuel chosen for these properties would be immediately usable by most of the cars on the road, and it could be distributed to the largest number of service stations at the lowest possible cost. If it passes muster on all these criteria, butanol should create some very interesting choices for the owners of current and planned ethanol facilities.