R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Range Responds

I just became aware that BiofuelsDigest wrote a story on my recent blog on Range Fuels, and got some comments back from Range Fuels’ CEO David Aldous:

Battle of the Falling Timbers

Aldous said pretty much what I would expect the CEO of Range Fuels to say. He defended his company, and complained that the funding includes money for future phases. That may be, but it is true that Range recently went back to the DOE for more money. If they are already funded for future phases, then why not show us what you can do before asking for more money now?

The truth is that the early public statements from those involved with Range – prior to them getting taxpayer funding – don’t remotely reconcile with what they are now prepared to deliver. The costs have escalated, the capacity has been ramped down, and production went from “cellulosic ethanol” to “cellulosic biofuels” to “mixed alcohols” to “methanol.” Those are the facts, and I think Aldous is trying to put the best possible spin on a bad situation that he inherited.

In fact, left unsaid in my original blog is that things have obviously gone horribly wrong from the days of Range’s early claims. Reading between the lines, I think the capacity downgrades are an indication that the gasifier didn’t scale up as expected. Gasifiers are tricky, and one that works fine at one scale and with one feedstock may not work at all at a different scale. I also think Range found out that producing ethanol from syngas is much more difficult than they expected, and they couldn’t get a catalyst to do what they had hoped.

One interesting comment from Aldous was that their methanol would be a qualifying fuel because they will put it into biodiesel. Imagine that. Biodiesel is already struggling to compete, and now we are going to pay a subsidy on the methanol that is used to produce biodiesel, and then we will probably end up reinstituting the subsidy on the finished biodiesel.

That is going to be some expensive biodiesel (from a taxpayer perspective). Methanol presently trades at about $1.10 a gallon, so if we subsidize that as a cellulosic biofuel we would presumable pay a subsidy of $1.01 per gallon on top of the market price. In a nutshell, the real cost of that methanol going into biodiesel would be double what it should be. It all begs the question, of course, of why you wouldn’t just use the methanol directly as fuel.

There was a comment left following the story that allows me to finally tell a funny story that happened at the Pacific Rim Summit last November (here are my slides from my presentation). Alan Propp wrote the following:

Dear Editor,

My comment is this: you describe Mr. Rapier at the outset of your article with these terms, “Noted and widely respected energy writer…” I have met Mr. Rapier, and my description of him would have been, “Controversial, highly opinionated and frequently misinformed energy writer…”

His lack of knowledge or understanding of the Range Fuels project is indicative of his blog and other writings.

Sincerely,

Alan Propp, Ph.D., P.E.
Merrick & Company

That comment is priceless on several levels. First, while Propp is smearing me he conveniently doesn’t mention that his company is the engineering firm for the Range Fuels plant. His company has made a lot of money on all the hype, and his fingerprints are all over the project. Think he might have an axe to grind?

But here is the really priceless part. At the Pacific Rim Summit, I was having a bite with a colleague at an evening conference event. Joining us was David Bransby, a professor from Auburn (and advisor to Range Fuels) who gave a presentation that I really enjoyed. His wife was also present, as well as some members of the Hawaii Science and Technology Council. We were having some interesting discussions around logistics, energy density, and the problems of scaling up biomass-based solutions.

Up walks Alan Propp, Ph.D., and he immediately began to berate me. Shortly thereafter, one person got up and left the table (telling me later that Propp’s behavior was the reason he left the table), and two more later asked “What was that guy’s problem?

We were talking about the difficulties with scaling up biobutanol (which I have blogged on here) and Propp said “You are wrong. They now have a new process which can get butanol titers above 10%.” I looked at him with a puzzled look, and said “That’s impossible. Butanol phases out of water at 7.7% concentration. You can’t have a 10% solution.”

Propp was undeterred. He said that a certain company had given a presentation that day, and if I had attended it “I might have learned a thing or two.” (I would have attended but had a conflict). I was really puzzled, and couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. I decided I would investigate later, but I knew one thing: He was wrong about butanol titers above 10%. That’s like saying “Our water freezes at 40 degrees.”

The conversation turned to energy balances, and Propp’s position was “Energy balances don’t matter.” We were discussing a municipal solid waste project for converting trash into fuel. I said that if the energy inputs into the project were higher than your outputs, then in most cases you don’t do the project (unless you are using non-fungible fuel like coal as an input to produce a liquid fuel output). Propp said (paraphrasing) “If the biomass is free, then usage of those BTUs is what matters.”

I knew that we were looking at this problem in two very different ways. I was looking at it from the long-term viability of an energy project. Propp was locked into the idea that because the BTUs are free, then any usage of them is an improvement over the status quo. I couldn’t get it through his head that if the usage involved consuming more BTUs than you could extract from the free biomass, you don’t do the project. So we had a very fundamental disagreement. For an energy project, I won’t consume more than 1 BTU of fungible fuel to produce 1 BTU of fuel unless there are some really special circumstances (e.g., if the project is really a waste disposal project and energy would have been consumed regardless).

The evening went on like that. Propp was extremely arrogant and condescending. Had I known then of his involvement in some of these biofuel projects, I would have had a better grasp on why he behaved as he did. But then I went back to my hotel and looked up the company he had been talking about. It turns out that the good Dr. Propp was actually confused and had been talking about iso-butanol, a fundamentally different compound than normal butanol (which is almost always shortened to just “butanol”).

From a biological perspective, it is true that i-butanol is less toxic to microbes than n-butanol, but the phasing concentration for i-butanol is also higher. What is needed to crack open the economics of producing butanol biologically (which used to be the case before the much cheaper petro-route came along) would be to get butanol concentrations above the phasing level, so it could be skimmed off instead of having to distill it all. From that perspective, the lower toxicity of i-butanol is offset by the higher phasing concentration.

Further, in the chemical industry the chemical properties of n-butanol are generally preferred over i-butanol. Therefore, butanol production is shifted to the greatest possible extent to n-butanol, and i-butanol almost always trades at a discount to n-butanol. There is still a market for i-butanol, but it is unclear if i-butanol would be an attractive renewable fuel. The published test results I have seen were all of n-butanol.

So I chuckled at the thought that Alan Propp, Ph.D., didn’t know the difference between i-butanol and n-butanol, yet berated me for not knowing about new technology that produced “butanol titers above 10%.” I sent him a note later that night and said “I think you meant iso-butanol.” He responded back “Yes, that’s correct.” (In fairness to Merrick, Propp did have a colleague with him – Steven Wagner, VP from Merrick – who I found to be much more reasonable and more interested in simply have a conversation about technology).

The next day, I saw Propp and his demeanor had changed entirely. Gone was the arrogance from the night before. (I presumed he was feeling pretty sheepish). He had promised to show up for my presentation later that day and put some tough questions to me, and I said “By all means, show up and give me your best.” He was a no-show.

So it is with an extreme sense of irony that I read Propp’s comment above. It is a classic case of projection. Of course the sort of pseudo-knowledge displayed by Propp that night is a big reason that Range is in the position it is in. The initial promoters failed to distinguish between cellulosic ethanol and biomass gasification, and therefore made certain representations that many of us knew were incorrect.

Second, they didn’t understand the chemistry of alcohol production well enough to know that the production of pure ethanol via this route is problematic, and that a mixed alcohol is what they would produce. Pure ethanol would only be produced at a very high cost. As reality began to settle in, we have seen the statements from Range evolve a very long way from the initial claims of what they would do.

So despite comments from Aldous and Propp, the verdict on Range is the same. What they are proposing to deliver is a far cry from the technology (and cost) that they initially went out and hyped. The public statements are there for anyone to read, and don’t need any particular interpretation from me to see that things have not gone according to plan. So whether I understand Range’s grand plans isn’t the issue. I understand what they have said publicly.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | butanol, ethanol, hype, methanol, range fuels | Comments Off on Range Responds

I Never Cease to be Amazed

Thanks to a reader for sending me this story:


Company trying to turn waste into biofuel

Salem businessmen to turn dairy dung into butanol for vehicles

Diesel Brewing would burn dairy waste and turn it into butanol.

Butanol is mainly used as a solvent, but company officials want to use it as a renewable fuel.

If Diesel Brewing succeeds, it likely would be the first company in the world to make butanol with what’s called a gasification process, said Andy Aden, a senior research engineer with the biomass center at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo.

Once the process is proved feasible, Raines and his team hope to build commercial-scale plants that use 100 tons of waste per day — and produce a couple million gallons of butanol per year.

Why does this amaze me? Chemical companies like Celanese (my former employer), Dow, BASF, Eastman – oil companies like BP and Shell – and numerous other companies around the world produce butanol. They have big research budgets, and they would love to find an economical direct gasification route to butanol. These companies have looked at probably thousands of catalysts, and people have spent their careers working on this problem. The challenge is that syngas (produced from gasification) doesn’t like to form butanol. You can form a little bit directly, but CO (carbon monoxide) likes to do lots of things besides form a C4 alcohol like butanol.

Methanol is not a problem. You can also produce ethanol, which is what Range Fuels is planning on doing (although you almost always have methanol to deal with as well). But the selectivity falls off sharply as you go to higher alcohols. By the time you get to butanol, you are lucky if 5% of the product is butanol. More typical is 1-2%. See this NREL report for more details:

Thermochemical Ethanol via Indirect Gasification and Mixed Alcohol Synthesis of Lignocellulosic Biomass

So why does any of this amaze me? This is all known technology. It has been looked at for 50 years by multiple big companies spending untold millions of dollars. The economics simply don’t work, because of the very low yields. But a small company in Oregon still got someone to give them money to work on it:

The only way Diesel Brewing could get its start was through Oregon’s business energy tax credit program — one of the most robust in the nation.

The tax credit is worth 50 percent of their $1.4 million in capital costs, Stapleton said.

And then they also suggest that they will be profitable:

Raines doesn’t expect to make a profit until the 100-ton-per-day plant is running.

I spent several years working on butanol, and am quite familiar with the chemistry. How butanol is typically made involves a gasification step, but then you react the syngas with propylene and hydrogenate the product. This produces normal and iso-butanol, with very high selectivity and conversion. I believe it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to economically produce butanol by gasification of biomass. The chemistry just doesn’t work. Methanol or mixed alcohols? Those economics look better, and might eventually have staying power.

Don’t get me wrong, butanol is a fine fuel, and I have a special fondness for it. I would like to see it work out. But my observation is that people grossly underestimate the difficulty of economically producing butanol from biomass.

Now, I have to get back to work on my Unified Field Theory. I know that I am not a physicist, and a solution eluded Albert Einstein. But if I can just get a large enough grant, I think I can pull it off…

May 14, 2009 Posted by | biobutanol, butanol | 32 Comments

Vinod Khosla at Milken Institute: Part II

This is a continuation of the previous post covering Vinod Khosla’s (VK) recent lengthy interview Milken Institute 2009 Global Conference. The interview was conducted by Elizabeth Corcoran (EC) of Forbes and can be viewed here.

In Part I, VK discussed the role of government money, capital intensity of renewable projects, and some of his solar investments. Part II picks up at the 13:40 mark of the 75 minute interview. In this section, VK covers his strategy for cutting poor performers from his portfolio, discusses butanol, suggests that cellulosic ethanol can replace oil, says nuclear power can’t compete without subsidies, says cap and trade is inevitable, talks efficiency and smart grid, and tells us that he is often wrong.

EC (13:40): In the past 90 days we have seen something like a billion dollars being put into solar investments – whether in the form of equity or debt. Is that stupid money?

VK: The people who are putting in gobs of money, behind people chasing First Solar at billion dollar valuations – I won’t say it’s stupid but it’s not something I would do with my money. (EC: That pretty much counts as stupid). A diversity of opinion is good. I am often wrong. (EC: Sometimes you are). You only need to be correct once in a while because in our business you only lose one time your money but you can make 100 times quite easily. I don’t have to be very right.

(RR: I would like to hear that during his next congressional testimony where he is trying to drive the direction of energy policy: “I am often wrong.” But this also gets to the heart of why I often object to what he is saying. If he uses his high level of influence to help put us down the wrong path on energy policy, then what are the consequences of being wrong? They could be severe.)

EC (14:38): How many companies do you currently have in your portfolio?

VK: Our clean tech portfolio has probably about 50 companies.

EC (14:50): And how many companies – again you have been at this 5 years or so – how many companies do you cut off at this point?

VK: Interestingly the companies we have cut off…when we started, we started with a different premise. I decided, you know in most venture capital there are plenty of angels. Angels spend half a million dollars, work with a university professor, develop the idea a little further. There are very few angels in clean tech. First, the start-ups are harder, because they are very science and technology-based. If you made money in real estate, you aren’t going to put new money into a waste heat system, for example. It’s harder to understand. (RR: That’s ironic.) So we decided in 2004 that I would spend a lot of my time on what we would call science experiments. So we have cut off perhaps four or five things.

EC (15:48): Which was the biggest disappointment?

VK: Let me just finish the thought. The ones we have cut off, we cut off relatively early. So, of the 10 science experiments we did, we cut off five of them with a million dollars invested. Who cares? The problem is when you invest $50 million and cut it off. That’s the problem. We have not had any large cut-offs – I am trying to think – in our clean tech portfolio. When we have invested a lot of money, there’s one or two places – well one we wrote off; one called Altra (RR: Altra is a corn ethanol producer that is on the ropes). There’s one place we actually decided to change the plan – Cilion – and made it capital neutral, so they don’t need a lot of cash. Got rid of the debt; the company is going fine, but sort of on the slow boat.

(RR: When Cilion was formed in 2006, they announced they would have 8 plants in operation by 2008 and achieve an energy return of better than twice that of gasoline. Here in 2009 they have zero plants in operation. The formation of the company included much fanfare, such as this quote from VK: “Cilion will be able to single-handedly produce all of the ethanol that the Governor has ordered for 2010 [900 million gallons], based on current consumption.” So far, they have proven to be nothing but a money pit. So what if California had counted on that ethanol? These are the dangers of having someone unduly influencing energy policy and being “often wrong.”)

EC (16:57): How about Hawaii Bio?

VK: Hawaii Bio was a tiny investment. It was sort of like – I don’t even remember – under a million bucks. It’s actually going pretty well. They have only spent, cumulatively, a few hundred thousand dollars in their whole life. The idea there was very simple, and it’s still valid. We teamed up with the three largest landowners in Hawaii; about 640,000 acres and said when the technology comes along – and all they are doing is looking for technology; they aren’t developing any technology of their own – that land will be a strategic asset for the fuels area in Hawaii. And so we have been talking to a lot of technology providers, spending very little money. We’ll tread water until the right technology comes along.

EC (18:03): Last fall you said project finance was not an area you want to be headed into. Talk a little bit about where you see cellulosic ethanol going, and isn’t that an area where you have been involved with project finance?

VK: It depends on what you call project finance. Cellulosic technology is something I am very interested in; I actually think it’s the only thing that can replace the oil; I am fairly confident that within the next 5 years it will be cheaper unsubsidized than oil at $50, $60 a barrel.

(RR: I would like to see the math on this. It’s amazing that someone can believe this, despite there not being a single commercial-sized cellulosic ethanol plant in existence.)

EC (18:48): Let’s look at some of the numbers. You don’t like plain ethanol, right; the kind that comes from corn and soy?

VK: Right. To be fair to the corn guys, they served their purpose. I have said for years that they are a good stepping stone. This is important. I will tell you a funny story that really makes a lot of sense. About two years ago, we said that corn ethanol would be a good stepping stone; they have raised a lot of visibility; there’s a lot of pumps; cars are flex-fuel capable. It helped set up the infrastructure. The economics of corn will not work long-term relative to cellulosic. We had a company called Gevo that were not doing corn ethanol, they were doing butanol. (RR: Butanol is something that was produced commercially via the biological route before the petroleum route displaced it; I have explained the issues with bio-butanol here).

They decided to change – not their science; they have bugs that produce butanol and on to some other things – but they changed their strategy for developing the process; the plants they use – to use corn ethanol plants. They have been doing this for two years now; planning on corn ethanol plants being available at 20 cents on the dollar. (RR: And as we saw recently with the Valero purchase of Verasun’s assets, others are also interested in picking up ethanol plants for pennies on the dollar). And developing a process technology that can use them. And in fact the largest maker of corn ethanol plants in the country – or one of the largest, ICM – about three months ago signed an exclusive agreement with them to convert corn ethanol plants into higher value products. So that’s a great example of how every problem is an opportunity.

(RR: While they may be able to reuse portions of a corn ethanol plant, the distillation of the butanol is going to be much different. Distillation capacity will need to be added during any conversion of ethanol plants to butanol plants. I have looked into this already at someone’s request, and I did spend years working in a butanol plant.)

EC (20:38): From your point of view, it’s the 2nd generation ethanol (VK: Absolutely) that’s going to make the most sense. What’s had to go into that is a lot of biotech engineering, finding microorganisms that can efficiently convert. (VK: Sometimes, not always) Finding fuel stocks that will be cheap enough, whether you get them from trees or other brush or winter crops and so forth. Take us through the numbers. Where do the prices have to be in order to make that work, and what happens if oil declines in price? What happens if it gets down to $30/bbl?

VK: What I would say is that unless there’s a competitor to oil, I don’t think oil is going to $30/bbl. (EC: Even though John Doerr was in the Middle East, and people told him, “John, it’s going to $30/bbl?) I won’t speak for John. When we plan for unsubsidized market competitiveness, we plan on $50 oil. I suspect the price will be much higher, especially when economic growth resumes. And whether it’s higher in a year or five years doesn’t matter as much. Not only that, the problem isn’t oil anymore, it’s a carbon constrained world. And we are going to have legislation on that. It doesn’t matter whether the science of climate change is right or wrong. Assume for a moment that we discover over the next 10 years that climate change science is wrong, and we don’t have a climate change problem – not something I believe. We will still end up with legislation in the next five years. So, at this point it is fait accompli; it’s going to happen.

EC (22:50): Doesn’t that amount to government subsidies?

VK: No it doesn’t. If you dump your wastewater into the river, is it a government subsidy if they require you to clean it up? In fact the nuclear industry is the one that’s subsidized. They say we’ll take your toxic waste, the government takes responsibility and subsidizes them. There is not a chance that you [nuclear] can compete in the market unsubsidized. Even if it had the toxic waste subsidy where they took waste off, you still couldn’t compete at market interest rates. There’s not a viable nuclear plant at 15% IRR or 15% debt, which is what the solar guys contend with. It’s only because of 5% loan guarantees from the federal government that keeps nuclear in business.

EC (24:30): Come back to the tax on carbon, though, because there will be a tax. Right? (VK: Yeah). What do you predict that legislation is going to be?

VK: I suspect…look it’s hard to predict politics…I suspect it won’t happen this year it will happen next year. Many people are pushing to have it before Copenhagen this year. I hope we do. There is a 50/50 chance the House can pass a bill by summer. The Senate will take longer, and it will get stuck in the Senate. Anyway, my expectation is that next year we will have a carbon cap and trade.

EC (25:30): Do we know enough about how to make cap and trade work? Isn’t that market just an opportunity for fraudsters to come in?

VK: Any market will have fraudsters to begin with. (RR: He went into an explanation of events that have led to stock market regulations). Will it take 10 years to get a system in place where there is not too much fraud? Yes. (RR: And during those 10 years another administration can come in and dismantle the whole thing).

EC (27:20): So you are willing to put up with an ill-defined, highly-regulated system to have cap and trade?

VK: We have to have cap and trade. We don’t have a choice. (RR: VK compares the need for homeowner’s insurance to the risk that climate change is catastrophic). If we buy home insurance, why shouldn’t we buy planet insurance? (RR: VK discusses the risks that climate change will lead to 100 million deaths; also suggests that the growth rate in China is exaggerated by neglecting “off the books” environmental damage).

EC (29:48): What is a cap and trade system going to do in the United States if we enact it without China?

VK: I suspect China will be part of it in some way. (RR: Discusses targets for developing countries, but doesn’t really answer the question of how China will be compelled to participate. He then referred people to this paper on his website that further explains his ideas.).

EC (33:50): Talk about efficiency. We are hearing a lot about the smart grid; a lot of smart grid technology involving more efficient use of power; we are hearing a lot about Silver Spring which is a company that I think you passed on. Why not? That seems like it would fit your strategy; great, low-cost investment; big bang for the buck.

VK: Silver Spring is a good company. (EC: Why did you pass?) I wouldn’t say I passed, what I would say is that what Silver Spring is doing is not what we are investing in. By that I mean we don’t invest at the valuations at which Silver Spring was raising money. It’s a different domain. (RR: EC explains that Silver Spring is doing smart metering). Efficiency is absolutely in our sweet spot. We are reinventing lighting. We are reinventing motors. We are reinventing air conditioners that haven’t been reinvented for 75 years. Every air conditioner still has a compressor; we are trying to do one without a compressor. We are reinventing batteries, pumps; anything that consumes energy, we are interested in improving.

A smart grid is a good thing to do. I would say that it’s very fashionable among environmentalists. (RR: VK says to remind him to rant later about environmentalists, whom he said cause half the damage). But efficiency is important, smart grid is important, but if I was asked, the money that was allocated to the smart grid in the stimulus package – is that the best use of that money? Absolutely not. (RR: VK says he would rather have a smart grid so wind energy in North Dakota can get to New York; then goes into the differences between a smart grid and a transmission grid.) An area of less than 100 miles by 100 miles in Nevada – and there are plenty of those – could replace 100% of U.S. electricity with solar. (RR: I have done calculations consistent with that sort of estimate, but there are some big caveats like intermittency). Why don’t we have it? Because we don’t have a grid.

EC (39:00): Let’s get to those electric cars. You don’t like the Prius.

(RR: This takes us just past the halfway mark of the interview. I will pick up the second half and conclude it in Part III).

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Altra, butanol, cellulose, cellulosic ethanol, Cilion, climate change, global warming, Hawaii, nuclear energy, Vinod Khosla | 75 Comments

What’s On Tap

Update

Four essays, plus this one, finished off today:

The Problem With Biobutanol

This Week in Petroleum 6-13-07

Letter to CNN on Inaccuracies in “We Were Warned”

The Problem with CAFE

With that, I am on hiatus. I may come back and update TWIP on Thursday. Cheers, Robert

Taking a Break

I received a welcome surprise yesterday, and found out that I get to fly home this Friday to see my family. I have been away from them for 5 months (so the kids could finish out school) but on Friday I go home to retrieve them for their move to Scotland. Thus ends the most difficult 5-month period of my life. At that time, two things will happen.

First, I plan to take a break from writing. I have 5 months of time that I have lost, and I am going to try to get some of it back by sacrificing on the writing. If I wake up early and find that I have a few minutes, I may post a short essay. But it will be a while before I post another long one, or engage in any sort of extensive debate.

Second, I am going to take my e-mail address offline. Presently, it is a rare day that I don’t have over 100 e-mails in my inbox. Of those, typically 30-50 require responses of some sort. I have been able to manage this while living alone, but this isn’t going to be feasible once I am reunited with my family. If you already have my e-mail address, feel free to contact me. If you do not, but would like some information, feel free to post a query following a post. There is a good chance that someone will address it. And I do get an e-mail every time someone posts in a thread (no, that’s not part of the 100 e-mails) so if something really needs to be addressed I will do so. I may also put together a FAQ to cover some of the common themes in the e-mails I receive. Things like “What do you think about bio-butanol?”

In the Pipeline: Butanol, TWIP, CNN, and CAFE

I have 4 essays that I intend to finish prior to going on hiatus. First, as some of you know, I started to write an update on butanol a while back. I basically have all of the information pulled together, I just need to finish it. Second, I will write one more review of This Week in Petroleum. I think this week’s numbers will really give us an indication of the likelihood of more supply crunches. Third, I will post a letter I am writing to CNN challenging some of the errors contained in their “Out of Gas” series. Finally, I had started an essay on CAFE standards. I think I will publish that as a very short – maybe 2 or 3 paragraph – essay on just what I think is wrong with our approach there.

Additional Projects

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on renewable energy that is being edited by a professor most people would immediately know. My chapter was to be on biodiesel, but I also requested and received approval to expand that to cover all renewable diesel. I will cover biodiesel, “green” diesel produced via hydtrotreating, and “green” diesel produced via biomass gasification and subsequent Fischer-Tropsch. I have sketched out an outline, but I need to fill in about 7,000 words of detail in the next 30 days.

Finally, I have recently been engaged with a group that has a very promising cellulosic ethanol technology. If it is what it appears to be (there are still some things I don’t know) then it would be the biggest leap in cellulosic ethanol technology since well before I was in graduate school. Bigger than Nancy Ho’s dual fermentation yeast. Big enough to demolish the economics of all the cellulosic ethanol plants currently being built. And I am not one given to hyperbole. I have placed an official inquiry with the corporate ethics department inside my company requesting clearance to assist on this project. I think it has incredible potential to make a contribution toward our energy needs. And I know that I have been very, very critical of ethanol here in the past, but that was because of the unsustainable nature of current ethanol practices, as well as loads of misinformation that was being pushed out there. My hope was to always see ethanol succeed, albeit it in a sustainable fashion. And I have always been willing to assist – and have done so many times over the years – in helping push promising projects forward.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | butanol, CAFE, CNN | Comments Off on What’s On Tap

What’s On Tap

Update

Four essays, plus this one, finished off today:

The Problem With Biobutanol

This Week in Petroleum 6-13-07

Letter to CNN on Inaccuracies in “We Were Warned”

The Problem with CAFE

With that, I am on hiatus. I may come back and update TWIP on Thursday. Cheers, Robert

Taking a Break

I received a welcome surprise yesterday, and found out that I get to fly home this Friday to see my family. I have been away from them for 5 months (so the kids could finish out school) but on Friday I go home to retrieve them for their move to Scotland. Thus ends the most difficult 5-month period of my life. At that time, two things will happen.

First, I plan to take a break from writing. I have 5 months of time that I have lost, and I am going to try to get some of it back by sacrificing on the writing. If I wake up early and find that I have a few minutes, I may post a short essay. But it will be a while before I post another long one, or engage in any sort of extensive debate.

Second, I am going to take my e-mail address offline. Presently, it is a rare day that I don’t have over 100 e-mails in my inbox. Of those, typically 30-50 require responses of some sort. I have been able to manage this while living alone, but this isn’t going to be feasible once I am reunited with my family. If you already have my e-mail address, feel free to contact me. If you do not, but would like some information, feel free to post a query following a post. There is a good chance that someone will address it. And I do get an e-mail every time someone posts in a thread (no, that’s not part of the 100 e-mails) so if something really needs to be addressed I will do so. I may also put together a FAQ to cover some of the common themes in the e-mails I receive. Things like “What do you think about bio-butanol?”

In the Pipeline: Butanol, TWIP, CNN, and CAFE

I have 4 essays that I intend to finish prior to going on hiatus. First, as some of you know, I started to write an update on butanol a while back. I basically have all of the information pulled together, I just need to finish it. Second, I will write one more review of This Week in Petroleum. I think this week’s numbers will really give us an indication of the likelihood of more supply crunches. Third, I will post a letter I am writing to CNN challenging some of the errors contained in their “Out of Gas” series. Finally, I had started an essay on CAFE standards. I think I will publish that as a very short – maybe 2 or 3 paragraph – essay on just what I think is wrong with our approach there.

Additional Projects

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on renewable energy that is being edited by a professor most people would immediately know. My chapter was to be on biodiesel, but I also requested and received approval to expand that to cover all renewable diesel. I will cover biodiesel, “green” diesel produced via hydtrotreating, and “green” diesel produced via biomass gasification and subsequent Fischer-Tropsch. I have sketched out an outline, but I need to fill in about 7,000 words of detail in the next 30 days.

Finally, I have recently been engaged with a group that has a very promising cellulosic ethanol technology. If it is what it appears to be (there are still some things I don’t know) then it would be the biggest leap in cellulosic ethanol technology since well before I was in graduate school. Bigger than Nancy Ho’s dual fermentation yeast. Big enough to demolish the economics of all the cellulosic ethanol plants currently being built. And I am not one given to hyperbole. I have placed an official inquiry with the corporate ethics department inside my company requesting clearance to assist on this project. I think it has incredible potential to make a contribution toward our energy needs. And I know that I have been very, very critical of ethanol here in the past, but that was because of the unsustainable nature of current ethanol practices, as well as loads of misinformation that was being pushed out there. My hope was to always see ethanol succeed, albeit it in a sustainable fashion. And I have always been willing to assist – and have done so many times over the years – in helping push promising projects forward.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | butanol, CAFE, CNN | 18 Comments

What’s On Tap

Update

Four essays, plus this one, finished off today:

The Problem With Biobutanol

This Week in Petroleum 6-13-07

Letter to CNN on Inaccuracies in “We Were Warned”

The Problem with CAFE

With that, I am on hiatus. I may come back and update TWIP on Thursday. Cheers, Robert

Taking a Break

I received a welcome surprise yesterday, and found out that I get to fly home this Friday to see my family. I have been away from them for 5 months (so the kids could finish out school) but on Friday I go home to retrieve them for their move to Scotland. Thus ends the most difficult 5-month period of my life. At that time, two things will happen.

First, I plan to take a break from writing. I have 5 months of time that I have lost, and I am going to try to get some of it back by sacrificing on the writing. If I wake up early and find that I have a few minutes, I may post a short essay. But it will be a while before I post another long one, or engage in any sort of extensive debate.

Second, I am going to take my e-mail address offline. Presently, it is a rare day that I don’t have over 100 e-mails in my inbox. Of those, typically 30-50 require responses of some sort. I have been able to manage this while living alone, but this isn’t going to be feasible once I am reunited with my family. If you already have my e-mail address, feel free to contact me. If you do not, but would like some information, feel free to post a query following a post. There is a good chance that someone will address it. And I do get an e-mail every time someone posts in a thread (no, that’s not part of the 100 e-mails) so if something really needs to be addressed I will do so. I may also put together a FAQ to cover some of the common themes in the e-mails I receive. Things like “What do you think about bio-butanol?”

In the Pipeline: Butanol, TWIP, CNN, and CAFE

I have 4 essays that I intend to finish prior to going on hiatus. First, as some of you know, I started to write an update on butanol a while back. I basically have all of the information pulled together, I just need to finish it. Second, I will write one more review of This Week in Petroleum. I think this week’s numbers will really give us an indication of the likelihood of more supply crunches. Third, I will post a letter I am writing to CNN challenging some of the errors contained in their “Out of Gas” series. Finally, I had started an essay on CAFE standards. I think I will publish that as a very short – maybe 2 or 3 paragraph – essay on just what I think is wrong with our approach there.

Additional Projects

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on renewable energy that is being edited by a professor most people would immediately know. My chapter was to be on biodiesel, but I also requested and received approval to expand that to cover all renewable diesel. I will cover biodiesel, “green” diesel produced via hydtrotreating, and “green” diesel produced via biomass gasification and subsequent Fischer-Tropsch. I have sketched out an outline, but I need to fill in about 7,000 words of detail in the next 30 days.

Finally, I have recently been engaged with a group that has a very promising cellulosic ethanol technology. If it is what it appears to be (there are still some things I don’t know) then it would be the biggest leap in cellulosic ethanol technology since well before I was in graduate school. Bigger than Nancy Ho’s dual fermentation yeast. Big enough to demolish the economics of all the cellulosic ethanol plants currently being built. And I am not one given to hyperbole. I have placed an official inquiry with the corporate ethics department inside my company requesting clearance to assist on this project. I think it has incredible potential to make a contribution toward our energy needs. And I know that I have been very, very critical of ethanol here in the past, but that was because of the unsustainable nature of current ethanol practices, as well as loads of misinformation that was being pushed out there. My hope was to always see ethanol succeed, albeit it in a sustainable fashion. And I have always been willing to assist – and have done so many times over the years – in helping push promising projects forward.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | butanol, CAFE, CNN | Comments Off on What’s On Tap

What’s On Tap

Update

Four essays, plus this one, finished off today:

The Problem With Biobutanol

This Week in Petroleum 6-13-07

Letter to CNN on Ethanol Inaccuracies

The Problem with CAFE

With that, I am on hiatus. I may come back and update TWIP on Thursday. Cheers, Robert

Taking a Break

I received a welcome surprise yesterday, and found out that I get to fly home this Friday to see my family. I have been away from them for 5 months (so the kids could finish out school) but on Friday I go home to retrieve them for their move to Scotland. Thus ends the most difficult 5-month period of my life. At that time, two things will happen.

First, I plan to take a break from writing. I have 5 months of time that I have lost, and I am going to try to get some of it back by sacrificing on the writing. If I wake up early and find that I have a few minutes, I may post a short essay. But it will be a while before I post another long one, or engage in any sort of extensive debate.

Second, I am going to take my e-mail address offline. Presently, it is a rare day that I don’t have over 100 e-mails in my inbox. Of those, typically 30-50 require responses of some sort. I have been able to manage this while living alone, but this isn’t going to be feasible once I am reunited with my family. If you already have my e-mail address, feel free to contact me. If you do not, but would like some information, feel free to post a query following a post. There is a good chance that someone will address it. And I do get an e-mail every time someone posts in a thread (no, that’s part of the 100 e-mails) so if something really needs to be addressed I will do so. I may also put together a FAQ to cover some of the common themes in the e-mails I receive. Things like “What do you think about bio-butanol?”

In the Pipeline: Butanol, TWIP, CNN, and CAFE

I have 4 essays that I intend to finish prior to going on hiatus. First, as some of you know, I started to write an update on butanol a while back. I basically have all of the information pulled together, I just need to finish it. Second, I will write one more review of This Week in Petroleum. I think this week’s numbers will really give us an indication of the likelihood of more supply crunches. Third, I will post a letter I am writing to CNN challenging some of the misinformation contained in their “Out of Gas” series. Finally, I had started an essay on CAFE standards. I think I will publish that as a very short – maybe 2 paragraph – essay on just what I think is wrong with our approach there.

Additional Projects

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on renewable energy that is being edited by a professor most people would immediately know. My chapter was to be on biodiesel, but I also requested and received approval to expand that to cover all renewable diesel. I will cover biodiesel, “green” diesel produced via hydtrotreating, and “green” diesel produced via biomass gasification and subsequent Fischer-Tropsch. I have sketched out an outline, but I need to fill in about 7,000 words of detail in the next 30 days.

Finally, I have recently been engaged with a group that has a very promising cellulosic ethanol technology. If it is what it appears to be (there are still some things I don’t know) then it would be the biggest leap in cellulosic ethanol technology since well before I was in graduate school. Bigger than Nancy Ho’s dual fermentation yeast. Big enough to demolish the economics of all the cellulosic ethanol plants currently being built. And I am not one given to hyperbole. I have placed an official inquiry with the corporate ethics department inside my company requesting clearance to assist on this project. I think it has incredible potential to make a contribution toward our energy needs. And I know that I have been very, very critical of ethanol here in the past, but that was because of the unsustainable nature of current ethanol practices, as well as loads of misinformation that was being pushed out there. My hope was to always see ethanol succeed, albeit it in a sustainable fashion. And I have always been willing to assist – and have done so many times over the years – in helping push promising projects forward.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | butanol, CAFE, CNN | 35 Comments

What’s On Tap

Update

Four essays, plus this one, finished off today:

The Problem With Biobutanol

This Week in Petroleum 6-13-07

Letter to CNN on Inaccuracies in “We Were Warned”

The Problem with CAFE

With that, I am on hiatus. I may come back and update TWIP on Thursday. Cheers, Robert

Taking a Break

I received a welcome surprise yesterday, and found out that I get to fly home this Friday to see my family. I have been away from them for 5 months (so the kids could finish out school) but on Friday I go home to retrieve them for their move to Scotland. Thus ends the most difficult 5-month period of my life. At that time, two things will happen.

First, I plan to take a break from writing. I have 5 months of time that I have lost, and I am going to try to get some of it back by sacrificing on the writing. If I wake up early and find that I have a few minutes, I may post a short essay. But it will be a while before I post another long one, or engage in any sort of extensive debate.

Second, I am going to take my e-mail address offline. Presently, it is a rare day that I don’t have over 100 e-mails in my inbox. Of those, typically 30-50 require responses of some sort. I have been able to manage this while living alone, but this isn’t going to be feasible once I am reunited with my family. If you already have my e-mail address, feel free to contact me. If you do not, but would like some information, feel free to post a query following a post. There is a good chance that someone will address it. And I do get an e-mail every time someone posts in a thread (no, that’s not part of the 100 e-mails) so if something really needs to be addressed I will do so. I may also put together a FAQ to cover some of the common themes in the e-mails I receive. Things like “What do you think about bio-butanol?”

In the Pipeline: Butanol, TWIP, CNN, and CAFE

I have 4 essays that I intend to finish prior to going on hiatus. First, as some of you know, I started to write an update on butanol a while back. I basically have all of the information pulled together, I just need to finish it. Second, I will write one more review of This Week in Petroleum. I think this week’s numbers will really give us an indication of the likelihood of more supply crunches. Third, I will post a letter I am writing to CNN challenging some of the errors contained in their “Out of Gas” series. Finally, I had started an essay on CAFE standards. I think I will publish that as a very short – maybe 2 or 3 paragraph – essay on just what I think is wrong with our approach there.

Additional Projects

I have been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on renewable energy that is being edited by a professor most people would immediately know. My chapter was to be on biodiesel, but I also requested and received approval to expand that to cover all renewable diesel. I will cover biodiesel, “green” diesel produced via hydtrotreating, and “green” diesel produced via biomass gasification and subsequent Fischer-Tropsch. I have sketched out an outline, but I need to fill in about 7,000 words of detail in the next 30 days.

Finally, I have recently been engaged with a group that has a very promising cellulosic ethanol technology. If it is what it appears to be (there are still some things I don’t know) then it would be the biggest leap in cellulosic ethanol technology since well before I was in graduate school. Bigger than Nancy Ho’s dual fermentation yeast. Big enough to demolish the economics of all the cellulosic ethanol plants currently being built. And I am not one given to hyperbole. I have placed an official inquiry with the corporate ethics department inside my company requesting clearance to assist on this project. I think it has incredible potential to make a contribution toward our energy needs. And I know that I have been very, very critical of ethanol here in the past, but that was because of the unsustainable nature of current ethanol practices, as well as loads of misinformation that was being pushed out there. My hope was to always see ethanol succeed, albeit it in a sustainable fashion. And I have always been willing to assist – and have done so many times over the years – in helping push promising projects forward.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | butanol, CAFE, CNN | Comments Off on What’s On Tap

Bio-Butanol

Butanol Production Process

In my previous job, I worked for a major chemical company for seven years. For six of those years, I worked on various processes to produce butanol. This included roles in R&D, process, and production, and I received a patent while working in Germany for devising a novel process for making butanol. Butanol is an alcohol like ethanol, but whereas ethanol has 2 carbon atoms, butanol has 4.

The most common industrial process to produce butanol involves a few steps. First, synthesis gas is produced. Synthesis gas is a very important raw material. It is composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and is produced by burning a feed at a high temperature while limiting the oxygen available for the reaction. The feed material for producing synthesis gas can be natural gas, fuel oil, coal, or even biomass. Once synthesis gas is produced, it can be used to make a wide variety of chemicals, including diesel (via the Fischer-Tropsch reaction), methanol, ethanol, propanol, or butanol.

If the desired end product is butanol, the synthesis gas is reacted under pressure with propylene to first produce butyraldehyde, and then this is reacted with hydrogen under pressure to produce butanol. The crude product contains butanol, isobutanol, and water, and must be distilled to obtain specification butanol, which has a wide variety of end uses.

The energy return on investment (EROI) for producing butanol in this way is certainly less than 1. I have never bothered to calculate it, but there are a number of energy intensive steps involved in butanol production. However, given the end uses for butanol, the EROI was never a major concern. Sure, saving energy during the production of butanol was always a priority, but since it typically is not used as a fuel, there was no requirement that the EROI be greater than 1 in order to have a viable process.

Bio-Butanol versus Bio-Ethanol

I have made clear in several of my essays on ethanol that my primary objection to using ethanol as fuel is the poor EROI. Ethanol production consumes large quantities of natural gas via fertilizer for corn and then distillation of the ethanol. (If coal is used instead of natural gas, you may have an economic process, but certainly not a green one). The reason so much distillation energy is required is that ethanol is completely soluble in water. The end product of the fermentation results in something like an 8% ethanol/92% water solution. It takes a lot of energy to heat water up, so the distillation of ethanol into a pure form uses up a lot of energy and contributes to the poor EROI.

Butanol, on the other hand, has a more limited solubility in water. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for butanol, it is only 7.7% soluble in water. What does this mean? There is a much less energy intensive method of separating butanol from water, and that is by letting it phase out (just like oil and water). Therefore, you would expect the EROI for producing butanol from corn would be much better than for producing ethanol from corn.

Until this weekend, I didn’t realize that anyone was producing butanol from corn or biomass. During my graduate school studies, we produced butyric acid as a very smelly byproduct of our biomass process, and this can be converted into butanol. But one of the editors over at Omninerd pointed me to a site this weekend that demonstrates the viability of producing butanol from biomass. I encourage you to check out the claims at http://www.butanol.com, which are based on the work of a chemical engineering professor at Ohio State.

The entire site is worth a read. Here are a few excerpts:

How does butanol compare with ethanol as an alternative fuel?

Butanol has many superior properties as an alternative fuel when compared to ethanol. These include:

· Higher energy content (110,000 Btu’s per gallon for butanol vs. 84,000 Btu per gallon for ethanol). Gasoline contains about 115,000 Btu’s per gallon.

· Butanol is six times less “evaporative” than ethanol and 13.5 times less evaporative than gasoline, making it safer to use as an oxygenate in Arizona, California and other states, thereby eliminating the need for very special blends during the summer and winter months.

· Butanol can be shipped through existing fuel pipelines where ethanol must be transported via rail, barge or truck

· Butanol can be used as a replacement for gasoline gallon for gallon e.g. 100%, or any other percentage. Ethanol can only be used as an additive to gasoline up to about 85% and then only after significant modifications to the engine. Worldwide 10% ethanol blends predominate.

They claim the process is competitive with ethanol on a per gallon basis. Given that butanol has substantially more BTUs than ethanol, the price per BTU would be much lower than for ethanol:

Our preliminary cost estimates suggest that we can produce butanol from corn for about $1.20 per gallon, not including a credit for the hydrogen produced. This compares with ethanol production costs of about $1.28 per gallon. Taking into account the higher Btu content of butanol, this translates to 105,000 Btu per dollar for butanol and 84,000 Btu per dollar for ethanol with corn at $2.50 per bushel. As a further point of reference, butanol produced from petroleum costs about $1.35 per gallon to manufacture.

The economics of the EEI process will be even more attractive when waste material is used as feedstock instead of corn and the price to produce a gallon is $0.85. In such cases the need and cost to grow and prepare the corn for fermentation, by far among the major cost items, are eliminated.

A couple of other claims are worth noting. They say that they can produce 2.5 gallons of butanol for every bushel of corn. On a BTU basis, that is 30% more BTUs than can be produced if ethanol is the end product. Second, they also claim that butanol can be used in biodiesel applications, and can be blended with diesel. If true, that would give butanol a significant advantage over many other alternative fuel options. Finally, they note that the process produces a significant amount of hydrogen as a byproduct.

What’s the Catch?

I need to spend some time going over the patents and linked reports more closely to see if anything suggests a problem that has been glossed over. I can think of one possible issue off the top of my head. One of the knocks on methanol is the toxicity. Ethanol is considered non-toxic for the most part. If trace quantities of ethanol entered the groundwater, it would not be as alarming as methanol getting into our water supplies. Butanol is less toxic than methanol, but more toxic than ethanol, and it is somewhat soluble in water. Therefore, the one thing that should be addressed is the potential for butanol to find its way into our water supplies.

Other than that, this looks worth pursuing. Butanol has a number of clear-cut advantages over ethanol, and it should have a superior EROI. The authors of the site indicate that they need to complete testing on a demonstration plant and a pilot plant. I look forward to the results of their testing.

May 1, 2006 Posted by | biobutanol, butanol | 57 Comments

Bio-Butanol

Butanol Production Process

In my previous job, I worked for a major chemical company for seven years. For six of those years, I worked on various processes to produce butanol. This included roles in R&D, process, and production, and I received a patent while working in Germany for devising a novel process for making butanol. Butanol is an alcohol like ethanol, but whereas ethanol has 2 carbon atoms, butanol has 4.

The most common industrial process to produce butanol involves a few steps. First, synthesis gas is produced. Synthesis gas is a very important raw material. It is composed of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, and is produced by burning a feed at a high temperature while limiting the oxygen available for the reaction. The feed material for producing synthesis gas can be natural gas, fuel oil, coal, or even biomass. Once synthesis gas is produced, it can be used to make a wide variety of chemicals, including diesel (via the Fischer-Tropsch reaction), methanol, ethanol, propanol, or butanol.

If the desired end product is butanol, the synthesis gas is reacted under pressure with propylene to first produce butyraldehyde, and then this is reacted with hydrogen under pressure to produce butanol. The crude product contains butanol, isobutanol, and water, and must be distilled to obtain specification butanol, which has a wide variety of end uses.

The energy return on investment (EROI) for producing butanol in this way is certainly less than 1. I have never bothered to calculate it, but there are a number of energy intensive steps involved in butanol production. However, given the end uses for butanol, the EROI was never a major concern. Sure, saving energy during the production of butanol was always a priority, but since it typically is not used as a fuel, there was no requirement that the EROI be greater than 1 in order to have a viable process.

Bio-Butanol versus Bio-Ethanol

I have made clear in several of my essays on ethanol that my primary objection to using ethanol as fuel is the poor EROI. Ethanol production consumes large quantities of natural gas via fertilizer for corn and then distillation of the ethanol. (If coal is used instead of natural gas, you may have an economic process, but certainly not a green one). The reason so much distillation energy is required is that ethanol is completely soluble in water. The end product of the fermentation results in something like an 8% ethanol/92% water solution. It takes a lot of energy to heat water up, so the distillation of ethanol into a pure form uses up a lot of energy and contributes to the poor EROI.

Butanol, on the other hand, has a more limited solubility in water. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for butanol, it is only 7.7% soluble in water. What does this mean? There is a much less energy intensive method of separating butanol from water, and that is by letting it phase out (just like oil and water). Therefore, you would expect the EROI for producing butanol from corn would be much better than for producing ethanol from corn.

Until this weekend, I didn’t realize that anyone was producing butanol from corn or biomass. During my graduate school studies, we produced butyric acid as a very smelly byproduct of our biomass process, and this can be converted into butanol. But one of the editors over at Omninerd pointed me to a site this weekend that demonstrates the viability of producing butanol from biomass. I encourage you to check out the claims at http://www.butanol.com, which are based on the work of a chemical engineering professor at Ohio State.

The entire site is worth a read. Here are a few excerpts:

How does butanol compare with ethanol as an alternative fuel?

Butanol has many superior properties as an alternative fuel when compared to ethanol. These include:

· Higher energy content (110,000 Btu’s per gallon for butanol vs. 84,000 Btu per gallon for ethanol). Gasoline contains about 115,000 Btu’s per gallon.

· Butanol is six times less “evaporative” than ethanol and 13.5 times less evaporative than gasoline, making it safer to use as an oxygenate in Arizona, California and other states, thereby eliminating the need for very special blends during the summer and winter months.

· Butanol can be shipped through existing fuel pipelines where ethanol must be transported via rail, barge or truck

· Butanol can be used as a replacement for gasoline gallon for gallon e.g. 100%, or any other percentage. Ethanol can only be used as an additive to gasoline up to about 85% and then only after significant modifications to the engine. Worldwide 10% ethanol blends predominate.

They claim the process is competitive with ethanol on a per gallon basis. Given that butanol has substantially more BTUs than ethanol, the price per BTU would be much lower than for ethanol:

Our preliminary cost estimates suggest that we can produce butanol from corn for about $1.20 per gallon, not including a credit for the hydrogen produced. This compares with ethanol production costs of about $1.28 per gallon. Taking into account the higher Btu content of butanol, this translates to 105,000 Btu per dollar for butanol and 84,000 Btu per dollar for ethanol with corn at $2.50 per bushel. As a further point of reference, butanol produced from petroleum costs about $1.35 per gallon to manufacture.

The economics of the EEI process will be even more attractive when waste material is used as feedstock instead of corn and the price to produce a gallon is $0.85. In such cases the need and cost to grow and prepare the corn for fermentation, by far among the major cost items, are eliminated.

A couple of other claims are worth noting. They say that they can produce 2.5 gallons of butanol for every bushel of corn. On a BTU basis, that is 30% more BTUs than can be produced if ethanol is the end product. Second, they also claim that butanol can be used in biodiesel applications, and can be blended with diesel. If true, that would give butanol a significant advantage over many other alternative fuel options. Finally, they note that the process produces a significant amount of hydrogen as a byproduct.

What’s the Catch?

I need to spend some time going over the patents and linked reports more closely to see if anything suggests a problem that has been glossed over. I can think of one possible issue off the top of my head. One of the knocks on methanol is the toxicity. Ethanol is considered non-toxic for the most part. If trace quantities of ethanol entered the groundwater, it would not be as alarming as methanol getting into our water supplies. Butanol is less toxic than methanol, but more toxic than ethanol, and it is somewhat soluble in water. Therefore, the one thing that should be addressed is the potential for butanol to find its way into our water supplies.

Other than that, this looks worth pursuing. Butanol has a number of clear-cut advantages over ethanol, and it should have a superior EROI. The authors of the site indicate that they need to complete testing on a demonstration plant and a pilot plant. I look forward to the results of their testing.

May 1, 2006 Posted by | biobutanol, butanol | 117 Comments