Chinese Company Cathay Jumps Into Growing Bio-Butanol Game
Butanol is valued as a solvent, a fuel, a fuel additive for gasoline or diesel, and a feedstock for chemical synthesis. Cathay's fermentation approach to biobutanol from Clostridium bacteria, also produces co-products including acetone, ethanol, and methane. The company currently uses corn starch as feedstock, and is continuously working on lowering production costs and raising efficiencies.
The biobutanol production facility in Jilin Province has an annual production capacity of 100,000 metric tons of biobutanol and co-products, including 65,000 metric tons (21 million gallons), of biobutanol and utilizes multiple continuous fermentation bioreactors, designed and constructed by its in-house team, at a scale of 1.8 million liters (475,000 gallon), per bioreactor.
In the F-1, Cathay said that in 2010 it sold more than 18,500 metric tons of biobutanol (6 million gallons) in China. As it continues to lower the production cost of biobutanol, it expect to first expand its market usage as a basic chemical building block and subsequently to sell it as a drop-in gasoline blendstock.
The company will begin pilot stage testing of its proprietary cellulosic biobutanol bioprocess technology by the end of 2011. It also plans to begin construction of a cellulosic biomass processing facility adjacent to the current biobutanol production facility to commercialize biobutanol from cellulosic biomass.
Cathay says it plans to expand the annual production capacity at the biobutanol production facility to 200,000 metric tons of biobutanol and co-products, including 130,000 metric tons, or 42 million gallons, of biobutanol, in the future. Cathay believes that using cellulosic biomass feedstock will significantly lower its production cost for biobutanol.
Cathay’s industrial biotechnology platform integrates strain development, fermentation scale-up and purification. Cathay licensed more than 200 strains of Clostridia previously used in commercial biobutanol production. It used its mutagenesis and screening techniques to develop a proprietary commercial strain capable of converting corn starch instead of dry milled whole corn to biobutanol. Use of corn starch instead of whole corn allows it simultaneously to capture all co- and by-products produced during the bioprocess including co-products bioacetone and bioethanol, and corn and biogas by-products, thereby reducing production costs and capturing additional revenues.
For the cellulosic biobutanol program, Cathay has developed a proprietary inhibitor-tolerant strain that is able to use crude biomass hydrolysate as feedstock, eliminating a key purification step while demonstrating comparable yields close to its commercial starch strain, the company says. _GCC
The microbial infrastructure for fermentation of ethanol (yeast and moulds etc) is much more efficient than the infrastructure for fermentation of butanol (clostridia etc). But the payoff for more efficient butanol production is significant, and the better microbes and processes will be pursued on multiple continents.
Just one more way that crafty scientists and technologists are engineering alternatives to petroleum from perpetually renewable feedstocks. Do not expect one magic bullet to replace petroleum. There will be thousands of magic bullets over the years, all competing against petroleum and against each other.
When humans do finally turn away from petroleum it will be because so many economical substitutes are available. In the meantime, humans need to use what oil, gas, bitumens, coal, kerogens, thorium, and other energy bearing materials that are available to them.