I’ve seen the future replacement for gasoline, its name is butanol.

In August, I was attending a conference of the International Association of Educators for World Peace at the University of San Francisco, when a 1992 Buick rolled up on campus. The sign on its door read, “Powered by: 100% BUTANOL”

The driver, David Ramey, had just driven from Blacklick, Ohio to the west coast on a fuel that replaces gasoline, gallon for gallon, with no engine modifications. Within a few minutes, Dave had us touching, smelling and burning butanol in small samples he supplied. The first thing I noticed is the absence of black smoke when it’s burned indoors.

“I began this project looking for a sustainable fuel source for small farmers to put in their tractors, then I realized you could put it right in a car,” Ramey told us.

As Ramey explains, there is a lot of excess biomass laying around in agricultural communities, as well as processing waste from corn refineries and cheese factories. The dairy industry has to pay to have billions of tons of cheese waste removed every year. Why not make fuel out of it?

Ramey points out that the production of industrial butanol and acetone through the process of fermentation using clostridia acetobutylicum began as early as 1916. Ramey says Chime Wizemann, a student of Louis Pasteur, isolated the microbe that makes butanol.

Butanol declined as a fuel during the 1940s and 50s primarily because of cheap oil. The price of petrochemicals fell below that of starch and sugar substrates such as corn and molasses. Butanol was not revived during the original oil crisis in the 1970s when ethanol emerged as an alternative biomass fuel. One of ethanol’s drawbacks is that it needed to be blended with fossil fuel; another is that it couldn’t be delivered through the existing gasoline pipeline structures. Nevertheless, ethanol became the alternative fuel subsidized by the U.S. government.

Currently, Ramey estimates that butanol prices as a chemical are at $3.75 per gallon, with a small worldwide market of 370 million gallons per year. He predicts an explosion in the market if butanol emerges as the green alternative to gasoline.

Butanol, Ramey insists, is the alternative fuel of the future. He’s developed a new fermentation process that is far more efficient than in the past. Other advantages of butanol are, unlike natural gas, it does not have to be stored in high pressure containers nor blended in any way with fossil fuel. The burns Ramey is so fond of demonstrating reminded me of burning citronella in a backyard bug torch.

Ramey’s dream is to build “new, smaller, turnkey biorefineries of 5 to 30 million gallons per year for small municipalities and surrounding farming communities.” He’s hopeful that the current oil crisis will push the introduction of his alternative fuel at a much faster rate than in the 1970s.

“Look, these local biorefineries address many local problems. A lot of your biomass can be converted to fuel instead of buried at landfills. Also, decentralized fuel production makes us less vulnerable to terrorist attacks,” Ramey explained. He didn’t mention (but did note he is a Republican) that butanol could potentially eliminate our nation’s penchant for starting wars with oil producing regions like the Middle East and Central Asia.

“Cooperatively owned facilities would allow the agricultural sector to employ more people and retain profits within the local economy,” stated Ramey.

An added bonus is how clean butanol burns. On July 14, 2005, Ramey started his first run across the nation on butanol with co-driver Jim Adkins. The butanol-burning Buick stopped to be tested at various state Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) centers. At the Springfield, Ohio test center, butanol reduced smog-producing hydrocarbon emissions by an astounding 95%. Ramey’s own Environmental Energy, Inc. (EEI) puts combined test figures at a still remarkable 25%. EEI claims that butanol also reduces carbon dioxide emissions from gasoline’s 12% to 7%. With his estimates that butanol could potentially replace 40% of all gasoline use, this would be a real “Clear Skies Initiative.”

Ramey sees his next step as “building and operating a prototype unit which will produce 250 gallons per week of butanol.” He also envisions a 2,500 gallon per week mobile Pilot Plant. Ramey offered that there will be investment opportunities available at various points in EEI’s development of butanol as a green fuel.

Bob Fitrakis is the author of The Fitrakis Files: Spooks, Nukes and Nazis. He is editor of the Free Press and He has a Ph.D. in Political Science and a J.D. The story of the 2004 stolen election in Ohio he co-authored with Harvey Wasserman is listed as number three in Project Censored's most censored stories of the year.