Speeding Up Butanol Production

Last week, several researchers from Rice University unveiled a new method for converting simple glucose (sugar) into biofuels and petrochemicals 10 times faster than any method previously reported. The research was published in Nature online and details how the team reversed one of the most efficient of all metabolic pathway, the beta oxidation cycle, to engineer bacteria that quickly produce biofuels.

“That’s really not even a fair comparison because the other organisms used an expensive, enriched feedstock, and we used the cheapest thing you can imagine, just glucose and mineral salts,” said Ramon Gonzalez, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and lead co-author of the Nature study.

The bacteria actually create butanol, a fuel that many believe has greater hope than ethanol because of its higher energy content, ability to be transported with current infrastructure and butanol can be used in current vehicles with no modifications.

“We call these ‘drop-in’ fuels and chemicals, because their structure and properties are very similar, sometimes identical, to petroleum-based products,” Gonzalez continued. “That means they can be ‘dropped in,’ or substituted, for products that are produced today by the petrochemical industry.” Continue reading

Butamax Awarded Patent

Butamax has been granted another patent – number 7,993,889. This patent protects foundational methods for low-cost production of biobutanol. Currently, Butamax has over a hundred patent applications pending in addition to those already granted and several of the applications are under accelerated review in the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program. The company says its intellectual property encompasses advances in technology across the renewables value chain including the production, purification and use of biobutanol as a renewable fuel component.

“The strength of Butamax’s patent portfolio is a testament to our company’s innovation capability and is a critical asset as we commercialize the most significant new fuel molecule since ethanol,” said Paul Beckwith, CEO of Butamax.

Peter Matrai, COO of Butamax added, “Butamax’s comprehensive intellectual property estate offers licensees a unique commercial opportunity underpinned by a fully proprietary technology package.”

In other Butamax news, they announced the filing of a second patent infringement against Gevo, Inc. for its unlawful use of Butamax biobutanol technology. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S District Court in the District of Delaware and is based on Gevo’s infringement of U.S. patent no. 7,993,889 that was granted to Butamax just this week.

Beckwith said of the patent infringement, “The success of any new technology start-up is dependent on protection of innovation. It is our obligation to assert our intellectual property rights in order to defend value for our partners and to protect the viability of this emerging industry.”

Peter Matrai Joins Butamax as COO

Peter Matrai has joined Butamax Advanced Biofuels as the company’s new Chief Operating Officer (COO). He will be responsible for the development and implementation of Butamax strategy and business plan. He will also be in charge of leading the company’s global commercial team which is currently engaged in activities in the U.S., Brazil, Europe and Asia.

Prior to joining Butamax, Peter spent five years with BP Biofuels where he was as a Strategy Advisor in London. In this role he was a key contributor to the development and implementation of BP Biofuels’ global strategy. Most recently, he led the development of a sustainable and scalable ligno-cellulosic biofuel business opportunity for BP in North America. In addition, Matrai’s has substantial experience in finance, mergers and acquisitions, emerging market investments, asset management, diplomacy, and public-private partnerships.

“Peter has an impressive track record for development and execution of commercial strategy. His deep understanding of biofuels, coupled with his experience of building successful new ventures, make him a powerful addition to the Butamax management team,” said Paul Beckwith, Chief Executive Officer of Butamax.

Regulatory Hurdles Hurting Success of Advanced Biofuels

Biobutanol may be the fuel to help achieve the mandates set out in the Renewable Fuel Standard. This according to new research from the University of Illinois. The report, “Making Regulatory Innovation Keep Pace with Technological Innovation,” says that regulatory hurdles “abound” for the successful commercialization of advanced biofuels and argues regulatory innovations are needed to keep pace with technological innovation. The research was conducted through the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute and will be published in the upcoming issue of Wisconsin Law Review.

The research was conducted by University of Illinois law professor Jay P. Kesan along with regulatory associate Timothy A. Slating with the University of Illinois Energy Biosciences Institute. Kesan said, “Getting regulatory approval for new biofuels is currently a time-consuming and costly process. By removing some of the uncertainty and some of the expense without compromising on the regulatory concerns, you are also removing some of the disincentives to entering the biofuel market, where we need more competition.”

The paper promotes biobutanol as a good driver for advanced biofuels. The reasons are threefold: it is compatible with existing vehicles engines, it is compatible with existing fuel distribution infrastructure and has a higher energy content than ethanol. A car fueled with biobutanol could drive roughly 30 percent farther than if fueled with the same amount of ethanol.

“Biobutanol is a really promising biofuel, and has the potential to further the policy decisions that have already been made by Congress,” Kesan continued. This is not a hypothetical situation. We have companies currently building the capacity to produce biobutanol.” The three leading companies in this area are Butamax, Cobalt and Gevo, who are all in some phase of moving from demonstration phases to commercialization.

The research reviewed two major policies: the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act is actually the regulatory framework for moving new fuels and fuel additives to approval. Continue reading

Arabian American Development Inks Deal with Gevo

Gevo has inked a deal with Arabian American Development Co. to build a hydrocarbon processing demonstration plant at its South Hampton Resources, Inc. subsidiary located in Silsbee, Texas. Arabian will also provide toll-processing services that will result in the processing of up to 10,000 gallons of isobutanol per month into a variety of renewable hydrocarbon biomaterials including jet fuel, isooctane for gasoline, isooctene and paraxylene for polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Toll processing, or toll manufacturing is when a company (Arabian) with specialized equipment manufacturers a product on behalf of another company (Gevo).

According to Gevo, this strategy will allow them to supply early adopters with product in order for them to test the materials, make sample products and begin sales. The contract is for two years and the demonstration plant should be complete by the end of this year.

“This contract is the successful culmination of one of several toll-processing opportunities on which we have been working. Gevo is developing exciting new technology and we’re pleased to be part of this value chain,” said Nick Carter, President and CEO of South Hampton Resources. “We believe this is a sustainable partnership as Gevo expects to demonstrate the viability of renewable hydrocarbons in a variety of market applications. That would pave the way for a larger market development plant, which, in turn, expands opportunities and should drive additional demand for our toll-processing services.”

Carter added, “In addition, the new processing facility will continue to expand our capabilities into the renewable energy market. Our largest contributor to date in this field is our C5 product that is being utilized as the working fluid in closed loop geothermal generators with a top US geothermal company.”

Paul Beckwith Takes the Reigns at Butamax

Butamax announced today the changing of the guards with Paul Beckwith taking over the reigns as CEO. Beckwith will be leading the company into its next phase of commercial development in biobutanol. He succeeds Tim Potter, who served as CEO for Butamax during the company’s start-up phase that began in 2009. Butmax is a partnership between DuPont and BP and is international in scope.

During the past few months, Butamax says it has progressed in its commercialization and is preparing to launch biobutanol as a renewable transportation fuel. With Beckwith’s expertise in bringing new products to market, he was chosen to lead the team. He has 27 years of experience in the fuel sector and led the market introduction of multiple major new fuels products in the United States and Europe, together with development of BP’s long-term global fuels product strategy. Prior to this promotion, Beckwith was a member of the Butamax leadership team and in this role led development of the company’s strategy.

“I want to thank Tim for his many contributions over the last two years in establishing Butamax as a leader in biofuels and wish him every happiness,” said Butamax Board Chairman Jan Koninckx. “Tim’s leadership during the formation and early development of the company has resulted in the generation of great passion and enthusiasm for biobutanol and Butamax. He has positioned the company for the next stage in the company’s commercialization and hands over to Paul Beckwith, who, with unrivalled experience of bringing new fuels products to market, is ideally suited to lead Butamax as we enter the commercial launch phase.”

New Study Assesses Wood For Biofuels

Wood waste has been one of the feedstocks most studied for viability as a biofuel. Today a new study evaluates the promise of wood waste biofuels by reviewing 12 technologies and 36 projects that convert wood to fuels including ethanol, butanol, diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel. This particular area of research has garnered strong public and private investment and drop-in fuels projects even more so. Yet according to Forisk Consulting and the Schiamberg Group, the authors of the “Transportation Fuels from Wood: Investment and Market Implications of Current Projects and Technologies,” biofuels derived from wood waste will fail to substantively contribute to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) either this year or through 2022.

According to co-author Dr. Bruce Schiamberg of the Schiamberg Group, major technical hurdles will disrupt commercialization for the majority of the technologies. The study finds an on average 11 year gap between estimated commercialization and actual full-scale production. However, the report says a promising approach of note is gasification technology under development from companies such as Rentech and ClearFuels whose goal is to produce drop-in diesel or jet fuel. In addition, the report highlights technologies from INEOS New Planet, Rappaport Energy and Coskata, and Kior who are pursuing producing biofuels with a combination of gasification and microbes, and catalytic fast pyrolysis.

The report also looked at the impact of biofuel development on US timber markets and found that they would be minimal with the highest potential for wood waste coming from Alabama, California, Michigan, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

“If all projects succeed, the total impact on wood raw material markets peaks at 8.8 million dry tons per year by 2030,” said co-author Ms. Amanda Lang, Managing Editor of Wood Bioenergy US. This represents just over 3 percent incremental wood use relative to the existing forest products industry.

Co-author Dr. Brooks Mendell added, “Ultimately, investors must think hard about allocating capital to projects that require 10+ years of technological development and rely on EPA renewable fuel mandates, which are essentially moving targets.”

Cobalt & American Process Partner to Produce Biobutanol

Renewable energy companies Cobalt Technologies and American Process Inc. have partnered to build an industrial-scale cellulosic biorefinery to produce biobutanol. In addition, the two companies will jointly market a GreenPower+ Biobutanol product to biomass power facilities and other customers globally. According to Cobalt, GreenPower+ Biobutanol technology selectively converts part of a boiler cellulosic biomass feedstock into renewable biobutanol, a chemical that is used widely in paints and other coatings. In addition, as a fuel, it can be used in renewable jet fuel among other transportation fuels.

As part of the partnership, Cobalt will integrate its continuous fermentation and distillation technology, that is currently pending a patent, into American Process’ plant under construction in Alpena, Michigan. The Alpena Biorefinery should begin producing ethanol in early 2012 and then will switch to produce biobutanol in mid 2012. Once in production, the plant will produce 470,000 gallons of biobutanol per year.

“We are excited to be partnering with American Process to commercialize our technology,” said Rick Wilson, Ph.D., and CEO of Cobalt Technologies. “The American Process Alpena Biorefinery plant gives us a great opportunity to demonstrate our technology at a commercial scale and provides an excellent model for how GreenPower+ Biobutanol technology can add value to biomass power facilities. We expect to move quickly from running the Alpena plant to building multi-million gallon facilities.”

The API Alpena Biorefinery is being funded in part by an $18 million DOE grant along with a $4 million grant from the state of Michigan. The plant will convert hemicelluloses extracted from woody biomass, to fermentable sugars that can be used for production of ethanol. Cobalt’s technology will convert these sugars into butanol.

“This partnership will demonstrate that GreenPower+ Biobutanol is an attractive value-added technology for biomass power projects worldwide,” said Theodora Retsina, Ph.D. and CEO of American Process. “At American Process, our focus has been the production of fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic feedstocks and Cobalt’s participation in the Alpena plant validates that we are on the right track. Cobalt’s biobutanol technology is a perfect complement to our GreenPower+ technology and we believe that the combination will appeal to customers.”

Butamax Issued Another Biobutanol Patent

Butamax has received another patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) number 7,910,342 entitled “FERMENTIVE PRODUCTION OF ISOBUTANOL USING HIGHLY ACTIVE KETOL-ACID REDUCTOISOMERASE ENZYMES.” The patent was awarded to protect a key step in the company’s biobutanol production pathway using genetic constructs with highly active enzymes. This is one of several patents that Butamax has been awarded for its biobutanol production technology.

“We pioneered microbial production of isobutanol as a single fermentative product and we are pleased that the U.S. patent office has recognized our inventive contributions in this field again,” said Tim Potter, Butamax CEO. “This patent protected technology is important because it enables commercially viable production rates.”

Just last December, Butamax was awarded a patent that covered various recombinant microorganisms, including yeast host cells, expressing classes of enzymes that catalyze the metabolic pathway for producing biobutanol at commercial scale. According to the company, the patent also protects methods for producing biobutanol as well as the fermentation medium in which the biobutanol is produced.

Butamax Vice President and Chief Counsel, Christine Lhulier, said, “We are the only company to hold issued patents for this technology. By obtaining and protecting our intellectual property portfolio, we ensure the highest sustainable value for our customers and licensees. Because our technology is not dependent on on-going royalties to multitudes of third party technology providers, Butamax is able to provide higher financial returns for converting ethanol capacity to biobutanol production.”

Lhulier also noted that Butamax is the only company to own all of its intellectual property. She said they are also the only company that can offer ethanol producers a technology that is clear of third party rights and obligations.

“We are uniquely positioned to provide unfettered access to the most advanced technology for producing biobutanol. We will continue to secure for our customers and licensees the ability to modify their production capacity to ensure sustainable growth for the biofuels industry,” concluded Lhulier.

Cobalt CEO: Biochems More Profitable than Biofuels

The head of a company that produces biochemicals and biofuels says the chemical market, although smaller, is much more profitable than the renewable fuel market.

According to this piece from Biofuels Digest, during the recent BioPro Expo and Conference in Atlanta, Cobalt Technologies CEO Rick Wilson questioned the wisdom of focusing on biofuels when the better money is in biochemicals:

“Why make a $2 fuel when you can make a $5 chemical?” asks Cobalt CEO Rick Wilson, whose company was branded in the public eye as Cobalt Biofuels for several years, but has morphed towards “Cobalt Technologies” (its original name) and is squarely focused on the market for renewable chemicals for the time being. By any name, it’s a hot company, ranked #14 in the world in this year’s 50 Hottest Companies rankings.

“I’m not saying that any of the companies, including us, should not be pursuing fuels. The markets are huge and the molecules work. But the country has got all its priorities screwed up. Here we are chasing fuels, which is the hardest problem to solve, instead of incentivizing or supporting companies to get into business by solving some of the easier problems first, like chemicals or other bio-based products?”

“At our company, we produce n-butanol, normal butanol. That’s been produced for a long time, through the complex ABE process, using a lot of different traditional feedstocks. But the feedstocks are increasingly cost prohibitive. The usual barrier to using advanced microorganisms to produce biobutanol has been the rate of fermentation. In our process, we have dramatically overcome that, and accelerated the fermentation rate. Our fermentation time is four hours, compared to 72 hours with the ABE methods. So we have the opportunity to use low-cost feedstocks such as bagasse and wood biomass, to large-value markets where we have a significant cost advantage.”

Wilson admits the biochemical market is much smaller than biofuels, especially when you consider there’s $250 billion in jet fuel and nearly a $1 trillion in gasoline alone. But he says it’s a lot harder to turn a profit in biofuels.

Bacteria Turns Biodiesel By-product Into Butanol

Researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have found a strain of bacteria that could turn glycerol, a by-product of biodiesel production, into another alternative fuel … butanol.

This story from the school’s news website says the research is being done by a graduate student with funding from the National Science Foundation:

Disposing of glycerol has been a problem for the biodiesel industry, according to Keerthi Venkataramanan, a student in UAHuntsville’s biotechnology Ph.D. program. “Many companies have had problems disposing of it. The glycerol you get as a byproduct isn’t pure, so it can’t be used in cosmetics or animal feeds. And purifying it costs three times as much as the glycerol is worth.”

The volume of glycerol produced is also daunting: About 100,000 gallons of glycerol is produced with every million gallons of biodiesel manufactured from animal fats or vegetable oils. (In 2009 more than 500 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in the U.S. while more than 2.75 billion gallons were produced in Europe.)

He is working with the Clostidium pasteurianum bacteria, which “eats” glycerol and produces several potentially useful byproducts.

“This strain is found deep in the soil,” he said. “It was originally studied for its ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen from the air.”

The bacteria uses glycerol as a carbohydrate source. From that they produce three alcohol byproducts — butanol, propanediol and ethanol — plus acetic acid and butyric acid. Butanol is a particularly interesting byproduct.

“Butanol is a big alcohol molecule, twice as big as ethanol,” Venkataramanan said. “You can use it as an industrial solvent and it can be used in cars, replacing gasoline with no modifications. It doesn’t have some of the problems you have with ethanol, such as rapid evaporation. And ethanol is a two-carbon molecule, but butanol is a four-carbon molecule so its energy value is much higher. In fact, there are plans to use it for jet fuel.

The article says that the bacteria also turn glycerin into a chemical used to make plastics. Plus, since it is non-pathogenic, the bacteria are better for the environment.

Butamax Files Patent Infringement Action Against Gevo

Butamax™ Advanced Biofuels has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Gevo, Inc. for its use of Butamax biobutanol technology. The lawsuit was filed January 14 in U.S. Federal District Court in the District of Delaware.

“The U.S. patent system is designed to encourage research and development and to protect inventions. Butamax and its owners were the first to develop this technology and it is our belief that the protection of intellectual property serves the best interest of the biofuels industry, our customers and the U.S. energy policy,” said Tim Potter, Butamax CEO.

The Butamax patent was granted in December 2010, encompassing biocatalysts developed to produce isobutanol and provides protection for Butamax and its pioneering work in this field. Butamax has filed an extensive patent portfolio for its proprietary technology across the biofuels value chain including biocatalyst, bioprocess and fuels. In November, the company unveiled its biobutanol technology laboratory in Brazil.

TetraVitae Announces n-Butanol Production Milestone

Butanol is not just for fuel. Today, TetraVitae Bioscience announced that it has successfully demonstrated its process to produce renewable n-butanol in a corn dry-mill pilot plant. The company says this is a major milestone for them in creating economically competitive renewable n-butanol for the coatings, plastics, personal care, and packaging industries.

“With this achievement, TetraVitae has shown that producing renewable n-butanol in a commercial scale corn dry-mill will be a reality very soon,” said Jay Kouba, CEO of TetraVitae. “Corn dry-mills offer the most direct, capital efficient, and low-cost route to large-scale production of renewable chemicals in North America. The industry has built a successful business based on fuel ethanol. TetraVitae is offering dry-mill operators a way to make higher value products using their existing capital base.”

For the demonstration phase, TetraVitae worked with The National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) to retrofit NCERC’s fully integrated corn dry-mill pilot plant to operate using their technology. The technology performed and successfully produced n-butanol as well as acetone and distillers grains at a competitive cost.

Working with the University of Texas in Austin’s Separations Research Program, the pilot phase of the program also demonstrated product purification. TetraVitae took raw chemical products produced at NCERC and produced purified n-butanol and acetone in a continuous distillation that met all standard chemical industry specifications for solvents.

“n-Butanol and acetone are high value chemicals with many applications in the coatings, plastics, personal care, and packaging industries,” said Kouba. “TetraVitae is creating partnerships with companies across these value chains that will result in economically competitive renewable products that consumers use every day.”

Butamax Advanced Biofuels Recieves Patent

Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC announced today that they have received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patent number 7851188 encompasses Butamax’s isobutanol producing biocatalyst under the title “Fermentive Production of Four Carbon Alcohols”. This in one of several patents that the company has filed across the biofuels value chain for its work in biocatalyst, bioprocess and fuels, including biobutanol, a drop-in fuel. Many consider drop-in fuels to have much greater advantages and benefits than first generation fuels.

“This biocatalyst patent is a reflection of our first-mover position in isobutanol. As more of our patent portfolio matures, our patents will play an important role in our efforts to develop and commercialize biobutanol for the global transport fuel market,” said Tim Potter, CEO of Butamax.

Just last month, the company unveiled its biobutanol technology laboratory in the city of Paulínia, São Paulo state, in Brazil and they also have a start-up demonstration facility in Hull England. Butamax was also recently named to Biofuels Digest’s coveted 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy.

“We look forward to sharing more details about our commercialization efforts in the near future,” concluded Potter.

Butamax Unveils Biobutanol Lab in Brazil

Today, Butamax Advanced Biofuels, LLC, a partnership between BP and DuPont to develop biobutanol, announced the opening of a biobutanol technology laboratory in the city of Paulínia, São Paulo state, Brazil. Butamax CEO Tim Potter joined Ricardo Vellutini, DuPont do Brasil’s President and Vice President of Agricultural Products for Latin America, for a ribbon cutting ceremony. Media were also welcome to tour the facility.

“The new laboratory was built to accelerate the path to commercial market entry for cane-to-biobutanol production,” said Potter.

Butamax believes that sugarcane is the most efficient feedstock for the production of biofuels and the lab will focus on optimizing the cane fermentation process. The company’s technology can be used with a range of feedstocks including starch-based crops such as corn, and in the future, cellulosic feedstocks such as energy grasses. The company also feels that Brazil’s strong economy and existing expertise in the biofuels industry makes it the perfect strategic location for producing biobutanol and adds some diversity to its biofuels mix.

Butamax believes that biobutanol complements the success of the ethanol industry and offers several key advantages including its ability to be blended at higher concentrations than ethanol delivering twice the renewable energy in every liter of gasoline. Another advantage over ethanol is that it can be used in vehicles with no modifications and can be transported via pipelines.

The company believes that its proprietary technology is a game changer and as such, has focused across the biofuel value chain. They have been researching the technology on a global scale in anticipation for their commercial launch.