BP Plc and DuPont Co. today announced a joint venture to retrofit an ethanol plant in Minnesota as part of an initial effort to produce biobutanol on a commercial scale. The alternative fuel, produced from the same feedstocks as ethanol, packs more energy into a gallon than corn-based ethanol and can be blended in higher mixtures in gasoline without harming automobile engines, proponents say.


Highwater Ethanol LLC licensed the technology from the companies' venture, Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, for its technology to retrofit an ethanol plant in Lamberton, Minn.


The facility will begin the first phase of commercial production, in which corn oil will be made, in the next few months, Butamax said in a statement today. "This is the next step in the road to commercialization," said Paul Beckwith, the company's CEO. A second phase, to fully retrofit the plant to biobutanol production, "will take somewhat longer," he said.


Because of its chemistry, biobutanol can be blended into gasoline at twice the percentage of ethanol without any negative impact on automobile engines, Beckwith said.


Two Iowa ethanol plants - Lincolnway Energy LLC in Nevada and Corn LP in Goldfield, are among 10 biofuels plants that have expressed interest in adopting the new technology if it proves viable on a commercial scale with Highwater Ethanol.  


"The technology would be available for them to retrofit," Beckwith said in a telephone interview with the Business Record. "We feel biobutanol would provide high value for them - they would be in a position to move forward with it, to confidently move forward and be biobutanol producers."


Earlier this year, Butamax was embroiled in a legal dispute over two patents held by a rival biofuels company, but in July, a federal court ruled in favor of Butamax. Beckwith said his company is still trying to reach resolution in other active litigation that involves a total of 17 patents, however. "The key thing is, we're still able to commercialize our technology," he said.