Over the years, reams have been written about the health benefits of beer that range from prevention of dementia and coronary diseases, aiding the digestive system, and getting a bouncy hair. There are also some quirky uses of beer that have been discovered, which include getting rid of a stubborn stain, polishing pots and putting out a fire. And now, scientists at Bristol’s School of Chemistry have discovered an all new use of beer – to make petrol! Reportedly, scientists have taken the first step towards creating sustainable petrol by using beer as a key ingredient. The study was published in the journal Catalysis Science & Technology.
According to researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK, bioethanol is one of the most widely used sustainable alternatives to petrol worldwide. However, it is not an ideal replacement for petrol because it has issues that include lower energy density, mixes too easily with water and can be fairly corrosive to engines. Therefore, a much better fuel alternative is butanol but this is difficult to make from sustainable sources. The researchers had been working for several years to find a technology to convert ethanol into butanol.
Professor Duncan Wass, who led the team of researchers, explains that the alcohol in drinks is ethanol, which is the same molecule that they wanted to convert into butanol as a replacement for petrol. Wass adds that alcoholic drinks are an ideal model for industrial ethanol fermentation broths – ethanol for fuel is essentially made using a brewing process. “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,” he said.
The team’s key finding is that their catalysts will convert beer (or specifically, the ethanol in beer) into butanol. Wass admits that 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. “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,” he said.
However, the researchers stated that they would not want to use beer on an industrial scale and compete with potential food crops. “There are ways to obtain ethanol for fuel from fermentation that produce something that chemically is very much like beer – so beer is an excellent readily available model to test our technology,” explained Wass. Another advantage of this approach is that it is quite similar to many existing petrochemical processes, said the researchers. The next step is to build the larger scale processes and, based on previous processes, researchers believe that this could take about five years if everything goes well.