BoatUS: Butanol presents viable alternative to ethanol

February 2012 News

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Because of problems associated with the use of ethanol in marine engines, the Boat Owners Association of the United States is suggesting butanol as a possible alternative fuel additive in modern engines.

Butanol is an alcohol like ethanol, but it is made with corn and beet byproducts and has a banana-like odor.

BoatUS says butanol is less corrosive than ethanol and doesn't attract moisture, which can cause harmful "phase separation" of the fuel. The group also reports that it can be mixed into the fuel ahead of time and shipped through existing pipelines, it has a higher energy value (110,000 Btu per gallon versus 84,000 Btu with ethanol), and it is safer due to a flammability similar to diesel fuel.

Bob Adriance, BoatUS Director of Damage Avoidance, notes that despite a 30-year head start for ethanol, other technologies are beginning to catch up.

"Back in the 1980s when the government was looking at biofuels, the cost to produce butanol was much higher than ethanol. Congress also gave ethanol a head start 30 years ago with a subsidy to produce it from corn," Adriance said in BoatUS'sSeaworthy magazine. "However, the subsidy is now expired and new technologies have made the costs to produce both fuels similar, although butanol is ultimately far less expensive to produce in terms of the amount of energy delivered per gallon."

Adriance said more research remains to be done on butanol, however.

"We need to find out more about any potential long-term effects, and would need to overcome the not-too-insignificant reality of ethanol's financial and political momentum in the market today," he said.

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