EPA approves isobutanol fuel registration filed by Butamax

By Erin Voegele | June 19, 2018

The U.S. EPA has issued a letter of notification to Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC registering isobutanol as a fuel additive for blending into gasoline at levels up to 16 percent. 

The EPA filed a notice seeking comments on the use of isobutanol in gasoline in the Federal Register on March 29, opening a 30-day public comment period that closed April 30. According to that notice, Butamax—a manufacturer of isobutanol—submitted an application to EPA for the registration of isobutanol as a gasoline additive at up to 16 percent on a volume basis.

Within the March 29 notice, the EPA explains the registration has the potential for the widespread introduction of isobutanol into commerce.

According to the EPA, current fuel regulations specify that companies with sales of less than $50 million qualify as small businesses and are exempt, in certain circumstances, from certain fuel testing requirements. The EPA has previously registered isobutanol as a fuel additive for companies that qualify under this provision as a small business.

Fuel and additive manufacturers, however, with annual sales of more than $50 million are prohibited from registering the use of isobutanol produced by small businesses. Rather, these larger companies must comply with all applicable registration requirements, including health effects testing. Butamax, a joint venture of BP and DuPont, is considered one of these larger companies.

Until Butamax’s application, no large fuel manufacturer had completed registration under 40 CFR part 79. As a result, isobutanol blending at terminals was limited. The EPA said this is one reason isobutanol has not yet been introduced into commerce at any significant volume. With the approval of Butamax’s application for the registration of isobutanol, there is potential for widespread use of the fuel additive.  

According to information posted to Regulations.gov, the EPA received 2,150 comments related Butamax’s application to register isobutanol under 40 CFR Part 79.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Renewable Fuels Association and Gevo Inc. are among the groups that filed comments on the registration.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Industrial and Environmental Section at BIO, said his organization is supportive of the registration. “In order to fully develop alternative transportation fuels from renewable sources, timely approval of new, innovative biofuels, like isobutanol, is essential,” he wrote. “BIO welcomes this registration as a further step towards meeting our nation’s goals of energy security.”

Erickson also said approval of the isobutanol registration “will spur investment and development of innovative technologies that will foster the development of alternative fuels.”

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the RFA, also said the RFA supports the approval of the isobutanol registration. “Like bio-derived ethanol, biobutanol is a renewable alcohol that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and offers other environmental benefits,” he wrote. “As such, we believe biobutanol may have the potential to serve as a cost-effective tool for helping to meet renewable fuel and advanced biofuel blending obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo, noted isobutanol is compatible with existing equipment, provides a valuable option to gasoline refiners and marketers, and creates value for the whole value chain, from farmers to consumers. Prior to the EPA’s action, Gevo had been supplying a 12.5 percent isobutanol fuel blend for on-road use, and a 16 percent blend for off-road use.

Following the EPA’s approval of Butamax’s isobutanol registration, Gevo released a statement applauding the agency’s action. “Blends of isobutanol at a 16 percent level have previously been used for boats and off-road applications,” Gruber said. “We congratulate Butamax in getting this registration done. We all benefit. Sixteen percent blend levels allow more RINS per gallon, high octane, and many other benefits. At Gevo we have been developing the markets for isobutanol containing gasoline, in particular to meet the demand for the ‘ethanol free’ segment of the gasoline market. A 16 percent blend option will give our customers and partners an option for an even better product for on-road use.”