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Global Bioenergies first to break the “blend wall” with renewable ETBE

In a historic first, Global Bioenergies has announced the production of ETBE (ethyl-tert-butyl ether) entirely from renewable resources. The breakthrough heralds a new opportunity for increasing the proportion of biofuels in standard gasoline blends by breaking the “blend wall”.

Fermentation unit of Global Bioenergies Leuna biomass-to-isobutene demo plant (photo Gunter Binsack).

Fermentation unit of Global Bioenergies Leuna biomass-to-isobutene demo plant (photo Gunter Binsack).

In a historic first, France-headed biotechnology developer Global Bioenergies has announced the production of ETBE (ethyl-tert-butyl ether) entirely from renewable resources.

Current gasoline standards limit the inclusion of traditional biofuels such as ethanol because of its physical and chemical properties. The majority of countries impose this type of limit – commonly known as the “blend wall” restricting the blend volume of ethanol. For example, the French standard caps ethanol content at 5 percent in 95-octane and 98-octane unleaded gasoline, and at 10 percent in unleaded 95-octane E10 gasoline.

Breaking the blend wall with bio-isobutene

Global Bioenergies offers a new method for getting beyond the blend wall with fully renewable ETBE. The breakthrough heralds a new opportunity for increasing the proportion of biofuels in gasoline.

Historically, partially renewable ETBE is obtained by combining a molecule of renewable ethanol with a molecule of fossil isobutene using a simple and proven process. It is used as an additive in vehicle fuel, up to a maximum of 23 percent.

– Fuels like 95-octane and 98-octane unleaded gasoline are blends of several types of fuels with different properties. Introducing new biofuels with very similar properties to gasoline components will increase the portion of renewable energy, while also complying with current standards, said Bernard Chaud, Head of Industrial Strategy at Global Bioenergies.

The innovation consists of using this same process to combine renewable ethanol with renewable isobutene obtained using Global Bioenergies’ technology. This purely renewable ETBE holds the potential for incorporating 2.7 times more renewable energy in gasoline than with traditional biofuels. It will also help to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions even further.

– We have used commercial fermentative ethanol and renewable isobutene produced by Global Bioenergies, which is a perfect match for the specifications required for this reaction. We are proud to have been selected to produce this first batch of 100 percent renewable ETBE, which could be a game changer in fuel additives, said Daniela Pufky-Heinrich, Project Manager at the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes.

ETBE worth EUR 2 billion globally

This first production of entirely renewable ETBE was supported by a grant of the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The company estimates that the global annual market for ETBE is currently around 3 million tonnes and worth at least EUR 2 billion.

– The conversion into purely renewable ETBE adds to our previous successes converting renewable isobutene to chemical products, materials and iso-octane fuel. The increasing number of applications underscores the value of our strategy to give priority to isobutene as a target from the company’s earliest beginnings and strengthens it in its innovative approach to reforming the global energy model, said Philippe Marlière, co-founder and partner of Global Bioenergies.

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