DOE to Invest in DuPont's Macroalgae-to-Biobutanol Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded a technology investment agreement to DuPont for the development of a process to convert sugars produced by macroalgae into next-generation biofuels called isobutanol.

Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) will be a subrecipient on the program. Under this award, the DOE will fund $8.8 million and DuPont and BAL will cost share the balance of the total award, forming a joint cost share program between DOE and DuPont.

Butamax™ Advanced Biofuels LLC, a joint venture between DuPont and BP, will be responsible for commercialization of the resulting technology package. The macroalgae-to-isobutanol project will establish technology and intellectual property leadership in the use of macroalgae as a low-cost, scalable and environmentally sustainable biomass for biofuel production. Efforts will focus on: improving domestic macroalgae aquaculture; converting macroalgae to bio-available sugars; converting those sugars to isobutanol; and economic and environmental optimization of the production process. More than 60 scientists in Wilmington, Del., and Berkeley, Calif., will work on this research and development program. The macroalgae aquafarming project will be conducted in Southern California.

Butamax™ has a multi-generational program to introduce isobutanol from different feedstocks to the market. Initially, isobutanol will be produced from feedstocks such as corn, wheat, and sugarcane. Subsequently, isobutanol production can be based on cellulosic feedstocks and, eventually, advanced feedstocks such as macroalgae.

“We project macroalgae to biobutanol technology will reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly compared to petroleum,” said Butamax™ Chief Executive Officer Tim Potter. “Butamax™ is expanding its feedstock flexibility to deliver isobutanol sustainably to achieve ever-cleaner transportation fuels. This evolutionary feedstock approach will enable greater reductions in carbon intensity as sustainable lower carbon feedstocks emerge.”

Butamax™ will commercialize isobutanol, a fuel that:

  • has a higher energy content per gallon than many first generation biofuels;
  • does not absorb water and can be transported through the existing oil and gasoline distribution infrastructure;
  • can be used in gasoline-powered vehicles without modification at higher volumes than first generation biofuels, enabling greater concentrations of renewables into the transport fuel mix.

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