Company initiatives

Abengoa enters biobased n-butanol

I just wanted to post this briefly about Abengoa engaging in technology development for the production of n-butanol using bio-based ethanol. The company’s bioenergy business has been very active in developing commercial market for cellulosic ethanol, and its 25.5m gal/year Kansas biorefinery plant is expected to start production in the fourth quarter this year.

Abengoa said production of biobased n-butanol will allow the company to access chemical markets it has not yet operated in.

Abengoa’s catalytic conversion technology, which the company said has not been developed at industrial scale, will involve catalytic condensation of ethanol to produce butanol through the Guerbet reaction. In this process, Abengoa said it has developed and patented a catalyst that allows attainment of a conversion and a selectivity of ethanol to butanol that enables cost-competitive manufacture of biobutanol.

Abengoa said it has also developed the chemical process that will allow the ethanol produced at two of its plants to be transformed into butanol. Abengoa currently has several first generation ethanol plans operating in the US and Europe.

“One of the advantages of this technology is that the butanol plant can be built next to the ethanol plant, allowing the production of butanol without having to halt the ethanol production process, that is to say, the conversion of ethanol to butanol is not irreversible as occurs with other technical solutions.”

No word yet on timeline for commercialization of this chemical project.

N-butanol is currently produced either by fermentation of sugars with Clostridium Acetobutylicum (ABE – acetone-butanol-ethanol) process or via the oxo petrochemical process where propylene is reacted with synthesis gas forming butylaldehyde, and subsequently hydrogenated to produce butanol.

Companies currently involved in bio-based n-butanol manufacture and development are Green Biologics, Eastman (with its acquisition of TetraVitae Bioscience in November 2011), Cobalt Technologies, Cathay Industrial Biotech, Celtic Renewables, and Working Bugs.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.


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