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Ethanol
Image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

US researchers accidentally discover an ethanol battery

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have accidentally discovered a potentially profitable means of converting carbon dioxide into ethanol.  The team used a catalyst made of carbon, copper and nitrogen and applied voltage to trigger a complicated chemical reaction that essentially reverses the combustion process.  According to lead author Adam Rondinon:

“We’re taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we’re pushing that combustion reaction backwards with very high selectivity to a useful fuel.  Ethanol was a surprise – it’s extremely difficult to go straight from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a single catalyst.

“We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked.  We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own.”

Because the process uses low-cost materials and works at room temperature, the researchers believe that it could be scaled up to an industrial scale and used as a means of storing energy generated from renewable sources.  Ethanol could be produced using excess renewable energy and then used to fuel generators in periods of insufficient energy.

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