Methanol from soda water can run cars
Accidental discovery uses only 1,2V to ‘reverse combustion process’
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.
(From left) Postdoctoral research associate Yang Song and senior staff scientist, Dr Adam Rondinone show the process of turning soda water into ethanol.