Plant based butanol cheaper than petro-derived butanol

January 9th, 2009 - 4:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 9 (IANS) A cheaper plant based butanol could replace its petroleum derived namesake being used in brake fluid, paint thinners and plastics.Butanol is three times more valuable as a chemical than as a liquid fuel, said Hans Blaschek, microbiologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who conducted the study.

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 it’s more expensive currently, said Blaschek.

“It would displace petroleum and that’s huge — clearly it could be used as a liquid fuel, but right now it’s still too expensive to use that way. Right now it follows the price of propylene,” Blaschek said.

He 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 you’re not limited,” said Blaschek.

“You can use distiller’s grains, biomass, pretty much anything that can be deconstructed to sugars and can be fermented. Clostridium eats both and it does it naturally.”

“You don’t 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, it’s 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, said an Illinois release.

The research was published in the January issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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