Chemists at the University of Bristol say they have found a way to turn beer into petrol. Although mostly just a demonstration, it has important implications that could the first step towards developing new types of fuels.
A recent scientific breakthrough could see to the world’s first beer-based sustainable petrol. Chemists at the University of Bristol have made the first steps towards making beer-based fuel. The newly discovered fuel is butanol – a four-carbon alcohol with a formula which could be used to run vehicles but is difficult to make from sustainable sources.
“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 – ethanol for fuel is essentially made using a brewing process,” said Professor Duncan Wass, whose team led the research.
Scientists from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry have been working for several years to develop technology that will convert widely-available ethanol into butanol. This has already been done 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.
The Bristol team’s key finding is that their catalysts will convert beer (or specifically, the ethanol in beer) into butanol. “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.”
“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 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.”
So far, one of the most widely used sustainable alternatives to oil world-wide is bio-ethanol (sold mixed with petrol). However, it is not an ideal replacement for petrol as it has lower energy density. In addition, it tends to mix with water and can be fairly corrosive to engines.