UK: Researchers convert beer into biofuel

Researchers at the University of Bristol /UK have found a method to convert ethanol in beer and other alcoholic drinks into butanol, which can be much better used as biofuel .This could path way for a new industry, which partly uses similar equipment as breweries to produce an alternative source of energy for cars in the future.

The drawbacks of ethanol when be used as a biofuel include its corrosiveness to engines, its low energy-density and its ability to mix too easy with water. However, so far it was hard to produce butanol from sustainable sources. The technology of converting ethanol into butanol already works in laboratory conditions with pure, dry ethanol but in order to be scaled up the technology must also work with liquids, which contain besides the ethanol a lot of water and other impurities like they are found in alcoholic drinks.

Duncan Wass, professor at the University of Bristol who led the research, explained his research strategy: “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."

"We wouldn't actually want to use beer on an industrial scale and compete with potential food crops,” he added.  "But 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."

After having successfully tested the new technology on beer the researchers want to build a larger scale process, which can take as long as five years.

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