BP addresses engine compatibility concerns for biofuels

A new fuel from BP looks set to do away with the compatibility challenges traditionally associated with the use of biofuels in car engines.

BP has been working with automotive manufacturers around the world to develop and test biobutanol, a new fuel produced by a microorganism that converts plant sugars into high energy density gasoline biofuel.

The fuel has been developed as a joint venture with engineering innovation organisation, DuPont and scale production of the fuel is now being achieved at a demonstrator plant in Hull.

Biobutanol has advantages over traditional ethanol based biofuels since it can be blended at far high concentrations without compromising performance. Its hydrophobic qualities also mean that pipe and pump infrastructure for the delivery of this biofuel to commercial forecourts is simpler than with ethanol based biofuels.

BP representatives at a showcase event yesterday assured press that the exisitng vehicles will be able to switch from conventional fuels to biobutanol without loss of performance or damage to engines.

Biobutanol is already approved for use in Germany and France at concentrations of up to 16% and 15% respectively. BP however, has ambitions to raise this concentration as the fuel gains international uptake.

Biobutanol will be one of three new fuels used by BP to power the official car fleet of the London 2012 Olympic Games. This fllet consists of over 5000 BMW vehicles.

The other biofuels being demonstrated at the Games are cellulosic ethanol a new biodiesel created using sugar-to-diesel technology.

Speaking to press at the showcase event Philip New, CEO BP Biofuels claimed: “We are the only company in the world with the compantability to connect expertise from the laboratory to the farm, to the factory and through to the driver.”

Mr New assured press that BPs new biofuels could feasibly be used at scale by consumers by the end of 2014 with the possible exception of the sugar to diesel biofuel for which the technology is more nascent.

Addressing the ethical challenges posed by the scale production of biofuels Mr New spoke of BPs commitment to ensure that its new range of biofuels will be “affordable, scalable and sustainable.”

In May TM came across concern among many food and drink manufacturers around the impact of biofuel growth on the cost of key staple crops, such as corn and sugar cane, and the growing challenge of food security.

Responding to TM’s questions on this challenge New said, “An increasing number of academic studies show that the issue of land constraint need not be a concern. There is enough arable land to meet our food and fuel requirements, especially when you factor in advances in agronomics and yield enhancements.”

Instead New admitted that there was a potential risk of market failure “market failure”.

Referring to BP’s Biofuels Done Well initiative New said that this approach is doing what it can to ensure that “there is not competition between food and fuel. Biofuels Done Well represents investment in rural communities that can create markets and actually stimulate food production on a local scale.”

Expanding on the competitive aspect of biofuels New said, “Because we need to compete with crude we would rather not use high value land which might be used for the production of corn for the food industry. This is why so much effort has gone into the development of industrial scale biofuel crops which can be grown on lower grade land. We are extremely excited about the grasses we have developed behind the cellulosic proposition.”

New said that these new grasses showed great promise in being capable yielding the biomass to support viable biofuel economics.