It is primarily used as a solvent, as an intermediate in chemical synthesis, and as a fuel.
There are four isomeric structures for butanol.
Butanol isomers, due to their different structures, have somewhat different melting and boiling points. All are moderately miscible in water, less so than ethanol, and more so than the higher (longer carbon chain) alcohols. This is because all alcohols have a hydroxyl group which makes them polar which in turn tends to promote solubility in water. At the same time the carbon chain of the alcohol resists solubility in water. Methanol, ethanol and propanol, are fully miscible in water because the hydroxyl group predominates while butanol is moderately miscible because of the balance between the two opposing solubility trends.
Butanol is considered as a potential biofuel (butanol fuel). Butanol at 85 percent strength can be used in cars designed for gasoline (petrol) without any change to the engine (unlike 85% ethanol), and it contains more energy for a given volume than ethanol and almost as much as gasoline, so a vehicle using butanol would return fuel consumption more comparable to gasoline than ethanol. Butanol can also be used as a blended additive to diesel fuel to reduce soot emissions.
Butanol sees use as a solvent for a wide variety of chemical and textile processes, in organic synthesis and as a chemical intermediate. It is also used as a paint thinner and a solvent in other coating applications where it is used as a relatively slow evaporating latent solvent in lacquers and ambient-cured enamels. It finds other uses such as a component of hydraulic and brake fluids.
It is also used as a base for perfumes, but on its own has a highly alcoholic aroma.
Since the 1950s, most butanol in the United States is produced commercially from fossil fuels. The most common process starts with propene, which is run through an hydroformylation reaction to form butanal, which is then reduced with hydrogen to butanol. Butanol can also be produced by fermentation of biomass by bacteria. Prior to the 1950s, Clostridium acetobutylicum was used in industrial fermentation processes producing butanol. Research in the past few decades showed results of other microorganisms that can produce butanol through fermentation.