Biobutanol: Next generation of biofuels

May 24, 2011

Scientists at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) are researching ways to turn wood into sustainable biobutanol.

Biobutanol is one of a handful of fuels that can be produced from wood sugars; the specific fuel that is produced depends on what kind of organism is used to ferment the sugar.

Biobutanol offers several advantages over the ethanol that is commonly mixed with gasoline in a mixture known as E10 (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline): it has a higher energy density than ethanol and it can be pumped right into the existing gas pipeline. Ethanol is less efficient and harder to mix with regular gas, the researchers said.

ESF is also developing shrub willow as a renewable energy source. Woody biomass such as willow cuttings and wood chips are processed with water to obtain those sugars. A strain of bacterium such as Clostridium acetobutylicum, a microorganism frequently used by industry in fermentation processes, is used to ferment the mixed sugars to butanol.

Butanol also has the advantage of serving as a platform chemical for other purposes, including jet fuel.