Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bio-Butanol from E-Coli

Butanol Molecule Shown Above; Source: Hydrocarbons Technology

Wired Magazine has one of the best issues ever this month. It is worth buying to check out.
Online they continue it on with even more cool information. In particular they have a list of "Top 10 New Organisms of 2007." Though I went to the article for the butanol producing bacteria I stayed for the glow in the dark cats. Can't argue with science fiction cool.

The E. Coli strain was created by a group of Canadian students from the University of Alberta who were participants in the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition.

For those of you who have never heard of butanol its a promising alcohol fuel. Butanol is significant in biofuel circles for two big reasons. Butanol has a higher btu content than ethanol making it potentially a superior gasoline blend stock and could be a breakthrough additive for biodiesel production as a substitute for methanol in production.

So both sides of the industry look to butanol for next generation potential.

Currently butanol is much more expensive than ethanol or methanol leaving it priced out of the market except in niche applications. With biodiesel production in particular butanol supposedly makes a biodiesel product with winter gelling properties far below freezing (I've heard mention of -20 degrees below 0F).

Quick background in butanol's place in the biodiesel industry its simple to understand. Biodiesel is a diesel product made from vegetable and animal fat feedstocks (follow the link to the wikipedia description).

To make biodiesel an alcohol is mixed with a catalyst (in biodiesel home brewing these are commonly methanol/alcohol racing gasoline and lye) in the proper proportions. This is then mixed with the oil feedstocks and mixed thoroughly producing a reaction.

The end primary products from this reaction is biodiesel and glycerine. Typically the biodiesel molecule is a methyl ester. Causing this same reaction with butanol would cause the end biodiesel product to be a slightly different molecule, a butol ester. The butol ester having superior cold weather properties to a methyl ester.

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