Ethanol, a corn-based product, is traditionally added into engine fuel. You may see signs when filling up your vehicle with gasoline that it contains ethanol. Though it is added to fuel to help decrease emissions, the ethanol causes damage to your engine due to its corrosive properties. Additionally, because ethanol is oxygenated, the formula doesn’t produce a high amount of energy.
Butanol, which is converted from ethanol, does not carry the same effects that ethanol does to engines, and can yield more energy. It is also a less volatile fuel. With this new process, butanol can be more efficiently converted from ethanol than current methods, like the Guerbet reaction. In ethanol conversion testing, the amount of butanol that is converted increases by almost 25 percent, compared to existing processes.
The method revolves around creating larger molecules with more carbon and hydrogen atoms. This composition facilitates higher energy content, and the size increase means the compound is less volatile.
Researchers also introduced other elements and compounds, like iridium and nickel, and copper hydroxide. Substituting these for potassium hydroxide (used in the Guerbet reaction) helped create a reaction that produced butanol in over 99 percent selectivity, compared to 80 percent selectivity with other samples. Selectivity is the ratio of which desired product was formed in ratio to unwanted produced – so the higher, the better. Furthermore, no unwanted products were created.
However, more research is required. Iridium, though effective, is not cost-efficient to use. As well, the new elements and compounds used break down to the point where they can no longer react. More exploration must be done to prolong the reaction to create more butanol. Once that is done, the research team, led by William Jones at the University of Rochester, would like to apply this methodology in the making of renewable fuels in the future.