Thursday, November 06, 2008

Beyond Ethanol to Butanol: Retrofitting the Future

Synthetic networks for non-fermentative alcohol production from glucose in engineered E. coli developed by Dr. Liao at UCLA and licensed by Gevo. The red arrows represent the two-step conversion (KDC/ADH) of 2-keto acids to alcohols

Ethanol works well as low concentration blend with gasoline, but butanol has properties closer to gasoline, and can be blended easily at higher concentrations--without having to modify existing vehicles. If companies could economically convert existing ethanol production facilities into butanol production facilities, butanol could move closer to its rightful position in the biofuels hierarchy.

Gevo is taking the process one step farther, and plans to take convert their butanol into hydrocarbon components of gasoline!
Gevo, Inc. and ICM, Inc. have formed a strategic alliance for the commercial development of Gevo’s Integrated Fermentation Technology (GIFT) that enables the production of isobutanol and hydrocarbons from retrofitted ethanol plants.

...Our data says that it will cost less than $0.30 per gallon to retrofit an ethanol plant to make isobutanol. Isobutanol can be converted to gasoline blendstocks for less than an additional $0.25 per gallon. Think of it: gasoline from an ethanol plant for less than $0.60/gallon additional capital. _GCC
The economics of bioenergy will have to sort itself out over time. The only uncertainty is whether a crusading new political reich in the US will allow the economics of energy technology to do its market magic. It is quite likely that the Obama/Pelosi/Boxer rebellion and political riots will so badly interfere with the energy markets as to retard the development of sustainable clean energy for many years.

Government price controls, mandates, price supports, etc. are not a sustainable approach to energy. The market has to be allowed to work, to find the most economically sustainable approaches. If the US chooses to be the world's political retard as it appears, the center of innovation needs to move to a different location.

At this time, a likely successor to America's former market leadership is not easy to guess.

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