Highwater CEO: Biobutanol is 'next step in biofuels'

By Kris Bevill | December 06, 2011

Lamberton, Minn.,-based Highwater Ethanol LLC has signed a letter of intent with Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC to potentially retrofit its 50 MMgy corn ethanol plant to produce biobutanol. The agreement makes Highwater the first entrant to the Butamax Early Adopters Group.

“Butamax offers our shareholders both new technology, extensive engineering resources needed to retrofit our existing facility, and a commitment to the long-term success of the biofuels industry,” Highwater CEO Brian Kletscher said. “We are very excited about the letter of intent with Butamax and look forward to working with them in the advancement of biobutanol as the next-generation biofuel.”

Discussions between Highwater and Butamax regarding the retrofit plans are expected to last through the coming year. Kletscher said that he is hopeful an agreement will be reached by the end of 2012 and that retrofit activities will begin in 2013. Highwater will continue to produce ethanol until the retrofits are complete. The company’s decision to explore biobutanol production was driven by a desire to be a leader in renewable fuels production, he said. “Butanol has a potential to be a drop-in fuel that can be utilized throughout the nation,” he said. “It’s the next step in biofuels.”

Butamax, a joint venture between BP and DuPont, was formed in 2009 to commercialize the production of biobutanol. The company currently operates a demonstration-scale facility in Hull, England, as well as a technology laboratory in Paulinia, Brazil, which is focused on developing the sugarcane-to-biobutanol process. Its Early Adopters Group is expected to be comprised of the current ethanol operators willing to install Butamax’s proprietary biobutanol technology. Matrai, chief operating officer at Butamax, said relationships are currently being developed with a group of ethanol producers, including Highwater. “These facilities are among the most efficient, well-managed facilities in the United States,” he said, adding that his company is pleased to have begun talks with Highwater. “Highwater’s operational performance is among the best in the industry, making them an excellent biobutanol production partner.”

According to Butamax, when blended at 16 percent volume, biobutanol delivers twice the energy content of 10 percent ethanol blends. The fuel is also compatible with current automobile engines and fuel infrastructure. Butamax said the favorable blending properties of biobutanol could reduce refiners’ cost of gasoline production and could also be used to comply with renewable fuel standard requirements.