Scientists at Stanford University in the state of California say they have developed a method for producing liquid ethanol strictly from water and carbon dioxide, without corn or any plant products, The discovery was recently reported in the latest online edition of the Nature journal, and it is expected that a prototype device can be ready in less than three years. The device, they say will be capable of producing much-valued ethanol from not much more than carbon monoxide gas.
According to Mathew Kanan, a co-author of the report, they have discovered a metal that can be used as a catalyst in the production of ethanol at room temperatures and pressures, which is known as an extremely difficult reaction. The experiments prove that electricity can be used to produce ethanol, instead of consuming costly biomass material, and the process contains the potential for transforming the entire energy ecosystem.
Eliminating the need for crops from the equation to produce biofuel, can be considered as more than revolutionary, and can revamp the agricultural industry in the US. Without the need to use corn, the prices of many crops can be lowered. The latest reports show that almost 40% of the corn production is used to produce ethanol, and at the same time the production of food and beverages rely very heavily on the use of corn.
In the conventional conversion process, one bushel of corn is needed to produce 3 gallons of ethanol, but at the same time the process needs hundreds of hundreds gallons of water.
Replacing the process, and producing ethanol from carbon dioxide and water with the prototype that is still in the development, would require the transfer of electricity between two electrodes, one which will be made of an oxide of copper. The 2-step process would make it feasible for the device to create liquid ethanol without requiring the use of farmland which can then be repurposed for other crops. In the US, more than 95 million acres of farmland is used for corn production.
Ultimately, it is hoped that a scaled version of the catalytic converter can be powered by solar wind or other renewable energy source. The process that Kanan envisions is one in which Carbon dioxide is remove from the atmosphere to produce carbon monoxide in the conversion process. The CO is then fed to the catalyst where the liquid fuel is produced. The Carbon dioxide, release in to the atmosphere during the process, will be reused to produce more Carbon monoxide in a closed –loop process that produces no emissions.
According to reports from the Renewable Fuels Association, the US is the world’s top producer of ethanol, and generate more than 13 billion gallon in the last calendar year. Almost all of the ethanol currently produced, employs a high-temperature fermentation process and facilities to convert bio- products, such as sugarcane, corn and other plants into fuel. The crops require land, fertilizers, and water. In some region it may require 800 gallons of water to produce a bushel of corn that create 3 gallons of ethanol.
If Ethanol is produced from carbon dioxide and water, scientists hope that it may provide potential for using sources that are cheaper and readily available as the world continues to find energy alternatives.
Written By Dale Davidson