Fuelling Up Vehicles With Bio-Butanol

Market opportunity

There is an urgent need for a reliable, affordable and sustainable supply of fuel. One option is producing butanol, which is a type of alcohol that can be used as a transport fuel. Butanol can be produced by either chemical or biological process. 

Butanol produced via biological processes are commonly known as bio-butanol. Bio-butanol is traditionally produced by Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation, which converts carbohydrates into acetone, butanol and ethanol. However ABE fermentation has several limitations, including a low butanol concentration, excess acid production, degeneration of solvent producing capability and solvent intolerance. 

The Technology and Advantages

NUS has developed two technological processes to produce bio-butanol more effectively. The first process relates to a robust fermentation process with a newly discovered microbe using feedstock including glucose, xylose, cassava flour, corn flour and food waste. This produces higher concentrations (up to 19.2 g/L) of butanol with a high level of solvent tolerance (~45 g/L). The fermentation process can be integrated with existing commercial processes for bio-butanol production. The research team continues to optimise the process further, as well as explore the use of other feedstock substrates.  

The second process relates to a unique fermentation process that can produce butanol (up to 13.5 g/L) and acetone, with negligible or no production of ethanol. This simplifies the purification of butanol, making it a more cost-effective method of producing butanol. The robust process leverages upon a second newly-discovered microbe and multiple feedstock, including monosugars, xylan and sugarcane bagasse (which is an agricultural waste). 


Besides direct use as a fuel additive, butanol can also be converted into many hydrocarbon fuels, specialty blendstocks and chemical intermediates, offering substantial potential for additional demand.  Butanol can be dehydrated to produce butenes which have many industrial uses in the production of plastics, fibres, rubber and other polymers. As a result, butanol has potential as a building block chemical, further expanding the addressable market for butanol.

For both technologies which demonstrate strong commercial potential,  NUS is seeking partners with established fermentation facilities to further develop the technologies and bring them to market. 

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