Wednesday May 08 2013
Both the renewable chemicals and the biofuels industries have laid their eyes on renewable isobutanol as an intermediate or blend stock, respectively. Today isobutanol is produced from fossil feedstock (propylene) through a process called carbonylation, although a couple of players have been focussing on isobutanol production via the fermentation of carbohydrates; thus far from food crop-based carbohydrates. The main use of isobutanol is as a solvent, but there are a number of other industrial and technical applications, for instance, as a precursor of derivative esters used in plasticizers, as a paint additive to reduce viscosity or as a gasoline additive to reduce carburettor icing.
The biofuels industry is interested in the development of isobutanol from renewable feedstocks, because it can serve as an alternative to gasoline in fuel combustion engines, potentially challenging the role of ethanol once up to speed. Although made from plant-based feedstocks, (renewable) isobutanol is actually more similar to gasoline than it is to ethanol, because the length of its hydrocarbon chain causes it to be fairly non-polar. It has been demonstrated to work in vehicles designed for gasoline use without modification. Several trials with isobutanol as a fuel have also been carried out, mainly in the United States through the US Air Force and US Navy.
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