In order to find sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels for transportation, British researchers have managed to create a sustainable fuel using beer, as a key ingredient, that can probably end humanity's reliance on petrol.
Lead study author Duncan Wass from the University of Bristol said, "The alcohol in alcoholic drinks is actually ethanol - exactly the same molecule that we want to convert into butanol as a petrol replacement."
"So alcoholic drinks are an ideal model for industrial ethanol fermentation broths - ethanol for fuel is essentially made using a brewing process," Wass added. It is also important to know that ethanol is not an ideal replacement for petrol as it has issues such as lower energy density, it mixes too easily with water and can be fairly corrosive to engines.
The researchers have been working for several years to develop technology that will convert widely-available ethanol into butanol. This has already been demonstrated in laboratory conditions with pure, dry ethanol but, if this technology is to be scaled up, it needs to work with real ethanol fermentation broths.
"If our technology works with alcoholic drinks (especially beer which is the best model) then it shows it has the potential to be scaled up to make butanol as a petrol replacement on an industrial scale," Wass stated. The technology used to convert ethanol into butanol is called a catalyst - these are chemicals which can speed up and control a chemical reaction and are already widely used in the petrochemical industry.
The findings indicated that their catalysts will convert beer (or specifically, the ethanol in beer) into butanol. In demonstrating that catalysts work with a 'real' ethanol mixture, the team has demonstrated a key step in scaling this technology up to industrial application.
Another advantage of this approach is that it is quite similar to many existing petrochemical processes. The research appears in Journal of Catalysis Science & Technology.