Chemists at the University of Bristol have transformed beer into fuel by converting ethanol to butanol. The scientists report that the new fuel has the potential to replace gasoline as the most widely used fuel by 2022.
“Turning beer into petrol was a bit of fun, and something to do with the leftovers of the lab Christmas party, but it has a serious point,” said study lead author Professor Duncan Wass. “Beer is actually an excellent model for the mixture of chemicals we would need to use in a real industrial process, so it shows this technology is one step closer to reality.”
Ethanol is currently being used worldwide as a fuel alternative, and gasoline in the United States is already made up of about 10 percent ethanol. However, ethanol has a low energy density as a fuel and may be corrosive to vehicle engines.
The scientists are basing their experiments on the fact that ethanol in the form of butanol is a much better option as a renewable fuel source.
Professor Wass explained to MailOnline, “One of the great benefits of using butanol as a fuel is that it can be used with current petrol cars with no or very little modification. This is a drop-in replacement for current petrol.”
“Ethanol would be converted to butanol in a large plant very much like the current petrochemical/refining industry, and then butanol would be put in the car by the consumer,” said Wass.
After several years of work, the team successfully developed a technology to convert the ethanol found in beer to butanol using a catalyst. So far, the conversion process is only capable of producing a few hundred grams of butanol from beer, but Professor Wass says that this achievement “shows it has the potential to be scaled up to make butanol as a petrol replacement on an industrial scale.”
“We wouldn’t actually want to use beer on an industrial scale and compete with potential food crops,” explained Wass. “But there are ways to obtain ethanol for fuel from fermentation that produce something that chemically is very much like beer – so beer is an excellent readily available model to test our technology.”
The study is published in the journal Catalysis Science & Technology.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer