Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois contain half of the nation’s ethanol production, but unfortunately this region is also susceptible to heavy rains. Floods in the Midwest throughout this past spring and summer inflated gas prices as they destroyed corn crops and stalled ethanol production. As you may know, the US government requires that ethanol is mixed with gasoline to help reduce emissions. With this shortage, some gas stations were forced to shut down because they could not supply gasoline mixed with the required ratio of gasoline (90%) to ethanol (10%). Floods not only affected the supply of ethanol itself but shut down delivery routes as well.
Disruption in US ethanol production begs the question: are there any alternative resources other than corn to produce ethanol?
In 2016, a group of scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory from the US Department of Energy in Tennessee accidentally stumbled upon an autonomous catalyst while in the process of examining the first step of an electrochemical reaction. The anticipated result was that carbon dioxide would be converted into methanol. The catalyst was formed using gases and metals – carbon, nitrogen, and copper – to construct nanoparticles and nanospikes, which instead converted carbon dioxide into ethanol in a single reversed reaction of chemical combustion. It’s very uncommon for a fuel to be produced in a single catalyst, so it was a surprise to everyone. Researchers in other parts of the United States are currently trying to jump in on development.
Just as carbon dioxide can be converted back into ethanol, carbon dioxide is also a waste byproduct of ethanol. So far, at least one company has launched a carbon dioxide facility that specializes in converting CO2 waste from ethanol into liquid CO2, but not CO2 into ethanol. Chemical combustion efforts such as this could curb future ethanol shortages when floods strike domestic crops, all while fighting the battle against climate change. There is great potential for growth in this new industry.
The accidental discovery by the scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory could revolutionize clean energy by recycling carbon dioxide into ethanol and become a sustainable alternative to ethanol production via fermented corn. This recycling plan will take carbon dioxide and revert it back into fuel, reducing the nation’s carbon footprint by preventing it from going back into the atmosphere.
Although the discovery occurred on a small scale, efforts are being made to initiate the catalyst on a larger scale by drawing from solar grids and wind turbines. Solar power is a natural resource but has the downside of producing carbon emissions, however, since the catalyst requires electricity, this is the perfect opportunity to change that. The excess energy from solar grids and wind turbines could be stored and catalyzed into ethanol, preventing the release of carbon emissions from this source.
Any effort to create sustainable, renewable energy is cause for hope for the future. The conversion of CO2 to ethanol serves a dual purpose, preventing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining a thriving ethanol market. Through such innovated technologies, the atmospheric gas industry has the opportunity to take part in combatting climate change while meeting the needs of various industries that rely on such gases.
Rocky Mountain Air is thrilled that the energy industry is taking greater steps to recycle gases and reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. With often limited resources and a fluctuating market, recycling gases like CO2 is important to keep applications for the medical, aerospace, oil and gas industries and more, up and running.