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New approach for biobutanol reaches ‘lab-pilot’ scale

By Scott Jenkins |

A continuous fermentation process for making biologically derived butanol from a variety of sugar feedstocks is operating at what developers call “lab-pilot” scale, producing 2.5 liters per day. Engineering studies conducted by the research team forecast that it could be produced for the same cost as existing sugar-based bioethanol processes. The technology developer, Optinol Inc. (San Francisco, Calif.; www.optinol.com), estimated capital and operating costs for commercial-scale manufacturing using its biobutanol process and concluded that it is feasible to produce biobutanol “at cost parity with ethanol.” Optinol has built its process around a robust, naturally occurring strain of Clostridium bacteria that converts a range of feedstocks, including sugarcane juice, corn starch, molasses, cellulosic sugars and others, into butanol at high conversion rates. “One of the challenges for genetically modified organisms [producing bio-based chemicals] is that they evolve quickly, and can lose the genetic features that were engineered into them,” explains Optinol founder and interim CEO Jack Oswald. “Instead of engineering a bug to fit a process, we took the approach of engineering a production system…
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