Watch out, motorists! A new fuel which you may not have even heard of may start showing up at pumps near you. Butanol, a gasoline substitute being promoted by billionaire Richard Branson, is getting ready to debut at retail pumps in the next year, aiming to steal market share from ethanol.
“This is the future of renewable fuels,” Branson said. “It’s also hugely versatile so can be created to produce gasoline fuel blends, rubbers, solvents, plastics and jet fuels, which give us scope to enter into a range of markets.”
Butanol appears to be well supported, with DuPont, BP, and Total SA as some of the supporters of newly founded Butamax Advanced Biofuel LLC. Similar to ethanol, butanol is a colorless alcohol which can be blended into gasoline that fuels your vehicle. However, it packs more energy than ethanol, which has been a leading concern for motorists fueling up with ethanol.
Butanol has existed for decades as a byproduct of the oil refining process, deriving it from crops would represent a success for the renewable energy industry. The process that now relies on corn as the main ingredient can be adapted to work with other substances such as sugar cane, resulting in a fuel called biobutanol.
Biobutanol’s promoters say it packs more energy than ethanol and is easier for refiners to blend with gasoline. That would give oil companies more options to comply with rules in the U.S. and European Union mandating more use of biofuels that reduce carbon emissions from petroleum.
According to sources, Butamax has pulled together several ethanol producers, such as Big River Resources LLC and Siouxland Ethanol LLC, willing to switch when the technology is ready. They have about 900 million gallons of combined capacity. The U.S. can make about 14 billion gallons of ethanol a year.
Butanol has a few advantages. It holds 84 percent of the energy content of gasoline, more than ethanol’s 66 percent. That means drivers can travel further on a tank with butanol blended in than they would with ethanol.
The new fuel would allow policy makers and governments to increase use of renewable energy in gasoline to meet carbon dioxide emission reduction targets.
The U.S. currently limits ethanol to 15 percent of the content of gasoline for cars made after 2001. Many older cars can only cope with weaker concentrations of the renewable fuel.
The same engines could take a blend that’s 16 percent butanol, which is less corrosive than ethanol, according to analysts.