Alternative Automotive Fuels

Keep Your Eye Open for Bio- Butanol – Here’s Why


Never Heard of bio-butanol?

Bio-butanol is a biofuel which is produced from biomass, and can be used as a substitute for gasoline in an internal combustion engine. Bio-butanol is a better fuel substitute for gasoline than ethanol. In some vehicles, gasoline can be replaced with bio-butanol without any modifications to the engine. Scientists believe any vehicle that can use a 10 percent ethanol blend should be able to use bio-butanol without any problems.

Production from Fossil Fuels or not

Bio-butanol blends of 85% or more with gasoline are alternative fuels as defined in the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Long term, bio-butanol can be a direct replacement for gasoline and boasts significant potential as an alternative fuel blend with ethanol (in E-85 as a replacement for gasoline). In addition to its use as a fuel in certain applications it is used as a chemical building block. Butanol is a key component for coatings, adhesives and inks and an intermediate in the manufacture of polymers. Furthermore, Butanol is also a critical constituent in the production of melamine resins, plasticizers and amines.

The difference between bio-butanol and ordinary butanol is its method of production. Modern butanol is produced almost entirely from petroleum while bio-butanol is produced by the fermentation of feedstocks including fermentation of biomasses from substrates ranging from corn grain, corn stovers and other feedstocks. Microbes are introduced to the sugars produced from the biomass. Ultimately, these sugars are broken down into various alcohols, which include ethanol and butanol.

Bio-butanol – a viable option to Ethanol

Some of its benefits include its increased energy content since bio-butanol’s energy density is 10% to 20% lower than gasoline’s. Another benefit is the release of fewer emissions during its manufacture since the carbon dioxide captured by growing feedstocks reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions by balancing carbon dioxide released from burning bio-butanol. Additionally, since bio-butanol blends well with gasoline and ethanol, and it can improve blends of gasoline with ethanol. Another advantage is bio-butanol can be produced using existing ethanol facilities with few modifications.

The fuel of our future?

What is the current status of bio-butanol?  The global bio-butanol market size was estimated at USD 7.86 billion in 2014. Increasing environmental concerns regarding the release of excessive greenhouse gasses (GHG) over the past few years has resulted in increasing demand for bio-based products.

A commercial fuel trial by British Petroleum (BP) confirmed the compatibility of butanol with existing infrastructure and consumer satisfaction with the performance of the produced modified butanol.

Bio-butanol has been tested in real vehicles, on real roads and in all seasons. These tests proved bio-butanol blended up to 16% volume does not impact vehicle performance. Furthermore, bio-butanol can be produced for about the same cost as ethanol.

The future of using bio-butanol as a cleaner method of meeting butanol demand seems to be bright. There will be a day will part of the fuel we use to power our automobiles before we all use electric vehicles will be comprised of bio-butanol. However, I would not recommend taking a sip of bio-butanol in the same method you could with ethanol.


Disclaimer:  Adapted from posting originally published on