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UK scientists develop new catalyst to turn beer into fuel

Chemists at the University of Bristol in the UK have developed a new technology capable of converting ethanol in beer into fuel.

The team of scientists led by Professor Duncan Wass has worked on the project over the past several years to develop the new catalyst which can convert the beer to help create a sustainable form of petrol.

The catalyst will help convert ethanol found in beer into butanol, which is said to be one of the most widely used sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, especially petrol.  

Wass said: "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 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."

The new technology has already undergone testing in laboratory conditions with pure, dry ethanol.

The chemists said: “The catalyst is a chemical can speed up and control a chemical reaction and are already widely used in the petrochemical industry.”

Scientists said that they now considering building and testing the catalyst process on larger scale, although it could at least five years for final result.

Wass added: "We wouldn’t actually want to use beer on an industrial scale and compete with potential food crops. 

"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."

Image: The new catalyst developed by University of Bristol chemists help convert ethanol found in beer into butanol. Photo: courtesy of University of Bristol.