Butamax Taps Fagen for First Ethanol-to-Butanol Conversion Plant

Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture of BP Plc and DuPont Co., is working with the construction company Fagen Inc. to convert an ethanol plant in Minnesota to one that produces a more efficient renewable fuel.

The plant will be the first commercial facility to use Butamax’s technology to make butanol, the Wilmington, Delaware-based company’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Beckwith said.

Butanol and ethanol are both produced from corn or other plants and blended with standard gasoline. Beckwith said his product displaces as much as 16 percent of the volume of gasoline sold at the pump, higher than the 10 percent allowed for ethanol under U.S. regulations.

“Butanol enables refiners to get more fuel out of a barrel of oil and more high-value products,” Beckwith said today in an interview at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York. “This is the next generation of biofuels that we’ll be taking to the market in 2014.”

Butanol has 30 percent more energy content than ethanol, and will improve fuel economy if used as the primary blendstock with gasoline, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Butanol is also less water-soluble than ethanol, so blends with gasoline may be transported through existing pipelines, a convenience that would reduce blending and distribution costs, according to the EPA.

The conversion project will begin next year at a plant that currently produces 55 million gallons (208 million liters) of ethanol. Beckwith didn’t name the owner of the plant.

Butamax signed an agreement in December with Highwater Ethanol LLC, a Lamberton, Minnesota-based company that said it would consider converting a corn-ethanol plant to butanol production. Highwater has a plant that produces 55 million gallons of ethanol a year, according to its website.

Butamax is fighting Gevo Inc., a U.S. biotechnology company backed by oil refiner Total SA and specialty chemicals maker Lanxess AG, over patents to produce butanol from plants.

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