Methanol from soda wa­ter can run cars

Ac­ci­den­tal dis­cov­ery uses only 1,2V to ‘re­v­erse com­bus­tion process’

The Witness - Wheels - - TRENDS - — Wheels Re­porter.

THE jour­nal Chem­istry Se­lect re­ports sci­en­tists from the Oak Ridge Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory (ORNL) are mak­ing cheaply and quickly ethanol usinng a cat­a­lyst made of cop­per nanopar­ti­cles embed­ded in spikes of car­bon.

Ethanol is widely used to make medicinces, cos­met­ics, inks, paints, al­cholic drinks and even to re­move ice from car win­dows.

The ORNL team were sur­prised wen the noted ap­ply­ing just 1,2 volts to what is ba­si­cally strong soda wa­ter, was enough to con­vert the car­bon diox­ide (CO2) sus­pended in wa­ter into ethanol. Dr Adam Rondi­none, of ORNL, ex­plained said this is a com­pli­cated chem­i­cal re­ac­tion “that es­sen­tially re­verses the com­bus­tion process”, but with rel­a­tive ease and an ini­tial con­ver­sion rate of some 63%.

“This was a sur­prise to the re­searchers, as this type of elec­tro­chem­i­cal re­ac­tion of­ten pro­duces many dif­fer­ent chem­i­cals, in­clud­ing meth­ane, eth­yl­ene, and car­bon monox­ide.

“We’re tak­ing car­bon diox­ide, a waste prod­uct of com­bus­tion, and we’re push­ing that com­bus­tion re­ac­tion back­wards with very high se­lec­tiv­ity to a use­ful fuel,” Rondi­none said.

“Ethanol was a sur­prise — it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to go straight from car­bon diox­ide to ethanol with a sin­gle cat­a­lyst. “We dis­cov­ered some­what by ac­ci­dent that this ma­te­rial worked, we were try­ing to study the first step of a pro­posed re­ac­tion when we re­alised that the cat­a­lyst was do­ing the en­tire re­ac­tion on its own.”

Their ac­ci­den­tal dis­cov­ery holds prom­ise for al­ter­na­tive fuel pro­duc­tion to keep on us­ing in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines, es­pe­cially now that bio-diesel is widely con­sid­ered to be too ex­pen­sive in terms of in­put costs as well as land use to pro­duce.

The ORNL re­searchers say their tech­nique could eas­ily be up-scaled to com­mer­cial lev­els to pro­duce ethanol, even in al­ter­na­tive en­ergy-stor­age sys­tems where ex­cess elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by wind and so­lar could read­ily be turned into liq­uid fuel.

“A process like this would al­low you to con­sume ex­tra elec­tric­ity when it’s avail­able to make and store as ethanol,” said Dr Rondi­none.

“This could help to bal­ance a grid sup­plied by in­ter­mit­tent re­new­able sources.”

The re­searchers next plan to im­prove their meth­ods to in­crease ethanol pro­duc­tion rates and to bet­ter de­ter­mine the full mech­a­nism of se­lec­tive chem­i­cal pro­duc­tion of the cop­per/car­bon cat­a­lyst.

PHOTO: ORNL

(From left) Post­doc­toral re­search as­so­ciate Yang Song and se­nior staff sci­en­tist, Dr Adam Rondi­none show the process of turn­ing soda wa­ter into ethanol.

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