Butanol made from plants could displace petroleum-derived version

January 11th, 2009 - 2:18 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 11 (ANI): A University of Illinois researcher has determined that butanol made from plant material could displace butanol made from petroleum, and that too just not at the fuel pump.

Yes, you can drive your car around with 100 percent butanol, but butanol is much more valuable about three times more valuable - as a chemical than as a liquid fuel, said Hans Blaschek, microbiologist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Illinois.

According to Blaschek, butanol has all kinds of attributes that would make it a good candidate for liquid fuel.

It burns cleaner, it has higher energy density than ethanol, but its more expensive currently.

It would displace petroleum and thats huge clearly it could be used as a liquid fuel, but right now its still too expensive to use that way. Right now, it follows the price of propelene, Blaschek said.

Blaschek has been studying microorganisms that are used in fermentation processes for over 25 years.

About 10 years ago, his lab at Illinois had a breakthrough with the development of a mutant strain of a soil bacterium called Clostridium beijerinckii that produces higher concentrations of butanol when added to a vat of plant byproduct.

One of the beauties of Clostridium, is that unlike yeast that can only use six carbon sugars, this organism can use five or six carbon sugars, so youre not limited. You can use distillers grains, biomass, pretty much anything that can be deconstructed to sugars and can be fermented, Blaschek explained.

Clostridium eats both and it does it naturally. You dont have to engineer the organism like people have been doing for the last 20 years with yeast trying to get it to use five carbon sugars, he added.

Because the mutant strain produces higher concentrations of butanol, its the basis for Tetravitae BioSciences, a local company that licensed the patented strain from the University of Illinois and is scaling up to use the over-productive strain on a large scale the size of an ethanol plant. (ANI)

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