Butamax: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

February 1, 2015 |

5-Minute-Guide-logoA BP joint venture with DuPont, Butamax Advanced Biofuels is developing the isobutanol, which has a higher energy content that ethanol, can be blended at higher rates into fuel that can be used by vehicles on the road today and may be able to facilitate the adoption of biofuels into the fuel supply chain at a faster rate.

Why does the molecule matter?

As Gevo puts it: “We will sell the isobutanol we produce, using it for market development in the specialty chemicals market, in specialty oxygenated fuel blendstocks markets, and as a building block to make fuel products such as jet fuel and chemical products such as paraxylene for polyester used in the production of bottles and fibers.”

Butanol is a four-carbon molecule — as opposed to ethanol’s two — made from the same feedstocks as ethanol. As a fuel, it can be transported in existing infrastructure and does not require flex-fuel vehicle pipes and hoses. It has about 4 percent less energy density than gasoline, but that’s hard to notice compared to ethanol’s 27 percent drop compared to gas.

Its real beauty is in the fuel blending. Biobutanol, today, is approved for 16 percent blends (compared to ethanol’s 10 percent limit). If ethanol were approved for 15 percent blends by the EPA, biobutanol would be approved for 24 percent blends. Combined with the improved energy density, in a standard 13-gallon sedan tank you can carry up to 109,000 BTUs of E10 ethanol or 228,000 BTUs of biobutanol – a little more than double.

Biofuels Digest Awards

2013: Fuel of the Year — Isobutanol (Gevo, Butamax)


50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy: #24, 2014-15

The Situation

Gevo, Butamax, and Green Biologics are all working on bolting on biobutanol technology to existing ethanol infrastructure.

Last August, Butamax took a big step forward in announcing the official completion of Phase 1 of a Butamax technology installation at Highwater Ethanol, including the installation of a novel corn oil separation technology. Butamax and Highwater Ethanol are happy to announce that the construction is complete and the facility is now in full operation.

In October 2013 Butamax announced that they had begun Phase 1 of a retrofit of Highwater Ethanol’s plant in Lamberton, Minnesota for the production of biobutanol. The cutting edge separation technology package includes a novel corn oil removal system and is an integral part of a full retrofit to biobutanol production.

Back in 2011, Butamax began to assemble the Butamax Early Adopters Group, with first member Highwater Ethanol, will be its first entrant to The ICM-designed facility was constructed by Fagen with a nameplate capacity of 50 mgpy. Butamax’s business model is to offer current ethanol producers proprietary biobutanol technology to permit improved biofuels growth and plant profitability.

As of now there are seven plants in the group with 900 million gallons in production capacity.

The Butamax Early Adopters Group now includes:

Big River Resources of Illinois, Iowa, & Wisconsin

Corn, LP of Goldfield, Iowa

Granite Falls Energy LLC of Granite Falls, MN

Highwater Ethanol of Lamberton, MN

Lincolnway Energy of Nevada, Iowa

Little Sioux Corn Processors of Marcus, Iowa

Platinum Ethanol LLC of Arthur, Iowa

Siouxland Ethanol of Jackson, Nebraska

Meanwhile, on the litigation front, in September 2014, the District Court of Delaware issued an order scheduling two further rounds of patent infringement actions pending between Butamax and Gevo for resolution.

The next phase of litigation, involving three Butamax patents asserted against Gevo, began in September 2014 with the discovery process and trial is scheduled for August 2015. Thereafter the remaining cases, involving three other Butamax patents asserted against Gevo, will recommence later in 2015 with trial scheduled for as early as April 2016.

According to Butamax, “Butamax continues to assert a total of eight patents against Gevo. Meanwhile, all of the cases involving patents asserted by Gevo against Butamax have either been ruled in Butamax’s favor or dismissed.”

Major Investors

BP, DuPont

Type of Technology

Starch fermentation.


Corn starch.



Past Milestones

In October 2013, Butamax and Highwater Ethanol began to retrofit Highwater’s ethanol plant in Lamberton, Minnesota with installation of corn oil separation technology.

Butamax has been quick to point out the connection between the corn-oil separation project and an eventual conversion of the Lamberton plant to isobutanol production. The corn-oil separation technology is an integral part of a full retrofit to biobutanol production and can also be installed independently as a first phase of the conversion.

In 2012, at the London Olympics, BP distributed biobutanol, produced in the Butamax joint venture demonstration plant, constructed by BP and DuPont in the UK (at Hull). Interestingly, the biobutanol was blended at 24 percent with conventional gasoline.

In September 2012, the USPTO granted Butamax Patent Number 8,273,558 (‘558 patent).

The innovative ‘558 patent technology provides a path to commercial production volumes of biobutanol for the global biofuel and other markets. Butamax has specifically designed its microorganism to be cost-effective for all markets, but particularly for biofuel blending.

While unmodified yeast may produce trace amounts of isobutanol via a different pathway than Butamax’s inventions, these unmodified yeasts only express certain enzymes in smaller compartments of the cell. This limits the availability of these enzymes to convert sugar to biobutanol in significant quantities and at high rates. Butamax developed modified genes that express key enzymes in the larger ‘cytosol’ area of the cell.

Future Milestones

• Enter into commercial partnerships for feedstock supply, plant construction and offtake

• Build and commence operations of first commercial plant

Business Model:

Owner-operator and licensor.

Competitive Edge(s):

Higher blending rates compared to ethanol

Higher value molecule compared to ethanol

Bolt-on technology has limited down time, quick payback for ethanol producers

Company website.

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Category: 5-Minute Guide

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