By Ham-Let

University of Bristol chemists have launched the initial stages of using beer as a prime ingredient in the creation of sustainable petrol.
It is a known fact that there is a crucial need to replace fossil fuels like petrol and diesel for transportation with sustainable substitutes. Globally, the most extensively consumed alternative has been bioethanol.

In the U.S. petrol is characteristically sold as a mix containing nearly 10% of ethanol. Ethanol is not an idyllic substitute for petrol due to concerns like its lower energy concentration, its ability to mix with water too easily, and its corrosive effect on engines. A far superior alternative fuel is butanol, however it’s tough to create from sustainable resources.

To come up with a solution, the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry has been occupied for numerous years with developing technology to transform broadly obtainable ethanol into butanol. This has been verified in lab settings using dry, pure ethanol, however if the tech can be up scaled, it has to work with genuine fermentation broths of ethanol. These comprise almost 99% of water plus additional contaminations, hence the novel tech needs to be able to bear that.

According to the research team leader, Professor Duncan Wass, the malt in alcoholic drinks is essentially ethanol — the identical molecule they wish to convert into butanol as a petrol alternative. This means that alcoholic drinks are perfect for fermentation broths of industrial ethanol (ethanol for fuel is fundamentally created by means of a brewing process).

Wass continued that should their technology work using alcoholic drinks, beer being the paramount model, then it illustrates that it has the probability to be scaled up in order to produce butanol as a replacement of petrol on an industrial magnitude. Converting ethanol into butanol involves technology termed “a catalyst” — chemicals that can control and accelerate a chemical reaction and which are currently in wide use in the petrochemical arena.

The primary discovery of the Bristol research team is that their catalysts will transform beer (precisely beer’s ethanol content which is an untainted ethanol mix) into butanol. In proving this, the researchers have shown that this tech can be scaled up for application in industrial settings.

While Wass is quick to point out that they don’t actually want to make use of beer on such a large scale so as not to cause a situation where it contends with prospective food crops. However, there are other means to use fermentation to extract ethanol for fuel to create something that closely resembles beer chemically. Hence, beer is a superb and freely accessible model for testing purposes. It is also akin to several current petrochemical methods.

Applying this on a larger scale could take up to 5 years should there be no hurdles along the way. The team is currently trying to figure out what makes their catalysts so effective.