Ethanol gets a lot of attention as the biofuel of choice in America. But BP claims that butanol will provide greater benefits than ethanol and is betting at least some of their chips on it as the gasoline-alternative to watch out for.
Butanol’s advantages over ethanol arise from its gasoline-like properties. A criticism of ethanol is the reduction in mileage per gallon because it has 2/3 the energy density of gasoline. Butanol, on the other hand, has more than 80% energy density of gasoline. Also, traditional fuel pipelines can not be used with ethanol since water mixes into it, but Butanol does this to a lesser extent and so could be used with more existing infrastructure. Best of all, butanol can be made from the same feedstocks as ethanol: corn starch, sugar beets, and other sugar starches.
BP currently has partnered with DuPont to find better ways to make butanol. They note that ethanol has taken a long time gain a foothold, and so butanol likely will not be available for quite some time.
Whatever the reason, if butanol really is better than ethanol, there is no reason why there should not be space for it in the world’s search for cleaner energy.
Source: Technology Review