Monday, August 16, 2010

No. 60: Develop the mass production technology of butanol (August 16, 2010)

Idemitsu Kosan and Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) in Kyoto will jointly develop the technology to mass produce butanol that is the next-generation biofuel. Using rice straws as the raw material, the two organizations will produce butanol with the help of the self-developed recombinant fungus. Butanol is burnable with higher efficiency and more utilizable than bioethanol. They are scheduled to build an experimental plant toward 2013 and start to mass produce butanol in 2020.

Existing gas filling stations can handle butanol without any problem because it is easily mixable with gasoline and usable also for the diesel engine. This is why it is regarded as the favorite of biofuel. It generates 30% more calorie than ethanol when it is burnt and allows for a higher fuel-economy rating. In addition, it can be used for the production of synthetic fibers and as raw materials of biodegradable plastics and paints. The two organizations founded an association to develop the technology that changes such nonfood plant-based fibers as rice straw and corn haulms into sugar and puts the resulting sugar into the culture tank of RITE-developed recombinant fungus to produce butanol.

They plan to develop the mass production technology by changing the recombinant to be incorporated into the microorganism and by studying the method to culture microorganisms in a large quantity. They aim to produce 300 liters of butanol out of one ton of plants. They are confident that once the mass production system is established, the production cost of butanol will go down to 30-40 yen per liter as low as bioethanol and butanol grow popular as an alternative to fuels, such as gasoline and diesel and petroleum-derived chemical raw materials. Because the technology uses nonfood plants as raw materials, the technology does not adversely affect food production because it uses nonfood plants as raw materials, and it favorably affects the efforts to prevent global warming.

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