Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Bit High-Tech For Me, But The Global Implications Are Interesting -- August 22, 2015

This is an interesting story, something I would not have come across on my own. A big "thank you" to a reader for sending it to me.

First some education for me, from wiki:
  • isobutanol: C4H10, primarily a solvent; can be made naturally by fermentation
  • famesene: a family of six closely related compounds, aromatics, found naturally
Apparently both isobutanol and famesene can be made from natural gas.

A company in California -- Intrexon Energy Partners -- has developed a method to convert natural gas to these compounds through "bioconversion."

The company needs a reliable source of natural gas and has partnered with Dominion Energy for that natural gas from the Marcellus and the Utica.

It takes a bit of looking but scroll down deeply in the wiki article where not less than 13 applications for isobutanol are listed. The very last one, almost a "throwaway," it seems, is "potential gasoline alternative." Most of the current applications for isobutanol: solvent, varnish remover, ink ingredient.

Actually, it would compete with ethanol. See this GreenTechMedia article from 2011.
Simply put, isobutanol -- which can be produced out of corn starch, cellulosic materials, agricultural residues and other ethanol feedstocks -- is an alcohol that acts like a hydrocarbon. The four-carbon molecule can be shipped in existing pipelines and blended with a variety of fossil fuel-based materials to produce greener versions of jet fuel, rubber, polyethylene or diesel.
Gevo has developed a genetically modified yeast that eats those feedstocks and secretes isobutanol. Currently, isobutanol comes from fossil fuels.
By contrast, ethanol is a soluble alcohol, one of the typical yeast byproducts. It corrodes pipelines, absorbs water and can only be used in certain applications like transportation fuel. Arguably worst of all, it has a lower energy density. A gallon of ethanol only contains around 67 percent of the energy of a gallon of gas. Biobutanol contains 82 percent, according to Gevo.
Meanwhile, the similarities between isobutanol and ethanol give Gevo an edge over some other bio-hydrocarbon makers. Because Gevo starts with a yeast, fermentation and similar feedstocks, the company can employ mothballed equipment and even entire ethanol distilleries as a foundation for its own factories. It will cost about 45 cents a gallon to retrofit a 100-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant to produce Gevo’s isobutanol, says the company.
For the archives. 

By the way, at the GreenTechMedia article it was interesting to see who was behind some of this: Cargill.

A Little Chemistry

From the GreenTechMedia link:
There’s a good chance you’ve paid quite a bit of money to drink isobutanol. “One of the flavor notes of scotch is isobutanol,” says Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo, adding that the naturally occurring chemical accounts for a good portion of the difference in taste between scotch and bourbon
I had come across isobutanol and its relevance to scotch somewhere in the past but I do not remember where.

I was sure it was in Heather Greene's book on whiskey but I was not able to find it.

These three books are the best books I've found on whiskey:
  • Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life, Heather Greene, c. 2014 (probably the best overall book, written with wit; simply fun to read)
  • Whisky, The Manuel, Dave Broom, c. 2014; best of the three for quickly finding best mixer (soda, ginger ale, cola, coconut water, or green tea) for a particular whiskey or whisky
  • Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, 5th edition, c. 1989 - 2004; the "Bible" for Scotch drinkers, perhaps, but feels too much like a reference book. If interested in good reading, start with Heather Greene's book; take the "Bible" along when shopping 
If I were teaching Organic Chemistry at the college level (and students were of legal age), I would begin the first week with a Scotch tasting (or aroma-smelling exercise for those who do not drink alcohol). 

No comments:

Post a Comment