Bacillus polymyxa produces (R, R)‐2,3‐butanediol from a variety of carbohydrates. Other metabolites are also produced including acetoin, acetate, lactate, and ethanol. The excretion of each metabolite was found to depend on the relative availability of oxygen to the culture. When the relative oxygen uptake rate was high, enhanced yields of acetate and acetoin were noted. At an intermediate oxygen availability, the butanediol yield was maximal. When the availability of oxygen was more restricted, higher yields of lactate and ethanol occurred. The cells appeared to regulate themselves such that energy generation is optimal subject to the constraint that the cells do not produce more reducing equivalents than can be oxidized by the electron transport system. The dependence of each product yield on the relative oxygen availability was determined, and this knowledge was used to carry out a fed‐batch fermentation that attained a final butanediol concentration of over 40 g/L in 50 h. Copyright © 1988 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.