Beer as a renewable fuel: Vehicles could run on it 2022, without having to be altered

Sunday, December 31, 2017 by

Beer could soon replace diesel and gasoline as a promising source of sustainable motor fuel by 2022, thanks to chemists who developed a method for converting the alcoholic beverage into a new type of fuel without the need to alter the vehicles.

Scientists from the University of Bristol have managed to create fuel from beer by converting its active ingredient, ethanol, into butanol through petrochemical processes similar to how gasoline is refined.

According to Professor Duncan Wass, lead author of the study (published in the journal Catalysis Science and Technology): “One of the great benefits of using butanol as a fuel is that it can be used with current petrol cars with no or very little modification. This is a drop-in replacement for current petrol.

“Ethanol would be converted to butanol in a large plant very much like the current petrochemical/refining industry, and then butanol would be put in the car by the consumer.”

Making fuel from beer

Bioethanol is already a widely-used alternative to gasoline worldwide. However, ethanol cannot entirely replace gas as it is corrosive to engines. Also, ethanol is extremely water-soluble and possesses a lower energy density than gasoline.

Scientists can convert ethanol to butanol in laboratory conditions with pure, dry ethanol using a catalyst, a substance used to speed up the chemical reaction.

The process is currently capable of producing a few hundred grams of butanol from beer, but it can’t be used on an industrial scale. As Professor Wass points out, the substance created by the technology they developed is “not enough to fill a car’s tank just yet!”

However, experts predict that cars could be running on this type of fuel in five years’ time if the process goes smoothly, potentially ending our reliance on gasoline. For now, it is still “very much at the laboratory scale.” (Related: How Ethanol Fireplaces Burn Alternative Fuel.)

Alternatives to petrol

While gasoline and diesel remain the main sources of motor fuel, there are some well-known alternative fuels that have been in use aside from bioethanol. These include:

  • Non-fossil natural gas – This fuel can produce fewer harmful emissions than gasoline or diesel. However, it also produces methane, a type of greenhouse gas.
  • Hydrogen – This can be mixed with natural gas to create an alternative fuel for vehicles that use certain types of internal combustion engines. While it produces no harmful emissions, hydrogen-based fuel can be costly.
  • Methanol – Also known as wood alcohol, methanol can be used as an alternative fuel in specific vehicles that run on methanol power. Methanol could become a source of hydrogen needed to power fuel-cell vehicles, but automakers are no longer manufacturing methanol-powered vehicles.
  • Biodiesel – This alternative fuel is based on vegetable oils or animal fats. It can be blended with petroleum diesel and is safe, biodegradable, and reduces air pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide. However, biodiesel production and distribution are limited.
  • Electricity – Battery-powered electric vehicles benefit from this alternative fuel. These vehicles store power in batteries that are recharged by plugging the vehicle into an electrical source. Electricity for transportation is highly efficient and is one of the greenest options concerning vehicle emissions.

Whether you love beer or loathe it — you can learn more scientific advances regarding beer as an alternative fuel by visiting

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