An Alternative To An Alternative?

Posted on October 28, 2011

When two sides are at am impasse, sometimes the best way forward is a third option. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), with an assist from Briggs & Stratton, has put forth an idea intended to address the ongoing, lawsuit-laden battle over the implementation of E15 and higher ethanol blends into everyday use,

At the annual GIE-Expo in Louisville, the association announced the completion of fuels testing on Briggs & Stratton small engines for a side-by-side evaluation of the performance, durability and emissions of ethanol and isobutanol fuel blends. Results show that isobutanol fuel blends provided by Gevo, Inc., did not cause any irregular or unstable engine or performance issues, suggesting that isobutanol could help meet the renewable fuel mandate with minimal to no impact on existing equipment and off-road vehicles, OPEI said.

Isobutanol can be produced from corn starch, cellulosic materials, agricultural residues and other ethanol feedstocks, OPEI said. A four-carbon alcohol molecule that acts similar to a hydrocarbon, OPEI said it could potentially function as a “drop-in” product to allow customers to replace petroleum-derived raw materials with isobutanol-derived raw materials without modification to their equipment or production processes.

Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI, said that the testing “shows us that isobutanol could be a biofuel alternative that can be introduced into the existing supply chain without the potential disruption and harm to our outdoor power equipment engines.”

Briggs & Stratton ran a test program with isobutanol fuel supplied by Gevo, a renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company. After testing three different B&S engine models on gasoline containing 12.5% isobutanol, no engine or performance issues were found and horsepower and torque levels were unaffected. The fuel showed equivalent or better performance than E10 at temperatures ranging from 40°F to 120°F and there were no significant changes in emissions (HC+NOx) levels. Significantly, isobutanol did not absorb water like ethanol blends, which is expected to lead to fewer problems in the seasonal use conditions and long storage periods that are common with small engine applications.

Briggs Chairman and CEO Todd Teske said the company is “encouraged by the results of the isobutanol testing on our engines. We are very interested in alternative fuels that do not cause damage to the substantial number of engines in use today while lessening the country's dependency on foreign oil."