Current status of Butanol R&D
Butanol has attracted attention since prospects in practical ethanol
production were settled. In June 2006, BP, Dupont and British Sugar announced
plans to introduce butanol to the market in 2007 including converting an
ethanol plant into a butanol plant in the UK. Furthermore, butanol
is one of the alternative fuels which can provide up to 1.3 hundred mil
kL by 2017, stimulating R&D all over the world.
Butanol has more positive aspects compared to ethanol including high
energy density, less corrosiveness and lower water solubility than ethanol.
Moreover, butanol can be blended with biodiesel which has attracted increased
Microbial butanol production technology
Clostridium acetobutylicum was isolated by Chaim Weizmann in the early 20th century and was found to produce acetone:butanol:ethanol in the ratio of 3:6:1. The bacterium was used in ABE fermentation process to produce acetone, which is used for gunpowder, and butanol, which was used for paint and aviation fuel. However, its production declined as the petrochemical industry advanced. Under the current climate where biofuel production is a hot topic all over the world, R&D into microbial butanol production has become active again.
Our R&D into butanol production technology
Although the current butanol production technology is based on ABE fermentation by Clostridium spp., there are problems associated with the process such as low productivity and the strictly obligate anaerobic conditions. To circumvent such problems, we have been carrying out research into a novel butanol production process by industrial microorganism and are aiming to establish the fundamental technology within 3 years.