Abstract Growth of the biodiesel industry has motivated increased study of the combustion characteristics of its constituent molecules and building combustion modeling capability. Understanding how these characteristics differ between bio-derived and conventional diesel fuels can help in evaluating biodiesel performance. A kinetic modeling comparison of methyl butanoate and n-butane, its corresponding alkane, contrasted the combustion of methyl esters and normal alkanes, towards understanding the effect of the methyl ester moiety. Utilizing a combined n-heptane and methyl butanoate kinetic mechanism in shock tube simulations, the results predicted no region of negative temperature coefficient (NTC) behavior for methyl butanoate, compared to a well defined NTC region for n-butane. We observed that oxidation pathways associated with the methyl ester moiety inhibited NTC behavior, through increased production of hydroperoxy radicals (HO2) instead of hydroxyl radicals (OH). In addition, we compared the evolution of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ethylene and acetylene. The early formation of CO and CO2, directly from methyl butanoate, revealed unique reaction pathways that also influenced a reduction in soot precursor formation. Overall, these results will help to understand how combustion processes change with the inclusion of oxygenated fuels, which will inform the study and design of combustion technologies.