Fun Science FRIEDay – Water to Wine? Close, CO2 to Alcohol (ethanol)

Science brings us many wonderful things (honestly if you enjoy the benefits of the modern era, go out and hug a scientist). One of humanities age old desires is the ability to convert something invaluable, or a nuisance, into something desirable. The old midas touch if you will. Recently some scientist stumbled onto the process of converting CO2, a primary culprit of anthropogenic climate change, into alcohol… though not the kind you drink, the kind that humanity could use as fuel.

(Photo credit: Getty + Space Images)

(Photo credit: Getty + Space Images)

Producing fuel from CO2 is huge because it lets us take a nuisance compound, and converts it into a productive one. This was accomplished by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee by using common materials (copper and carbon), but arranging them with nanotechnology. The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, such as ethanol. They figured they would go from CO2 to methanol, and then work out the logistics of going from methanol to ethanol, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. Science for the win!

The huge benefit of this discovery: the process uses common materials (i.e., no rare earth materials); it converts carbon into a fuel that is already widely used (previous advancements converted carbon into cryptic fuels like isobutanol and isopropanol); and most importantly, this conversion works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily with little energy cost (i.e., it’s an energy-efficient process).

Check out this short video of their work below:

So what could this mean in real world applicability? As one of the scientists on the discovery team, Adam Rondinone, put it, “A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol. This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.” Though I’m wondering why they didn’t use their ingenuity to produce a nano-beer. 😉

But seriously, I’ve seen and interacted with a lot of skeptical people regarding waning humanity off our dependence on fossil fuels. I’m a strong believer that the ability to do so is not as far off into the future as some closed-minded people assume. Recent advancements like this further affirm my position, so kudos to the team at Oak Ridge, and rock on!

This work was published in detail in the open access journal Chemistry Select.

Happy FSF to all!