Proving real life is always stranger than fiction …
Ethanol … it’s the fancy name for a substance many people rightfully blame for hundreds of poor decisions made in the past. It’s the main component of booze, and is the reason you feel all ‘woo-hoo and shit’ after drinking. In past years, however, it’s also become a large source of fuel and/or used as a fuel additive. It’s what many experts hope we can rely on for energy while we stabilize this whole renewable resources and climate change thing.
Cue interesting news:
Recently, researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee found a comparably easy way to take carbon dioxide (one of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change) and convert it back into Ethanol. Essentially, the findings reverse the combustion process that has put us in this pickle to begin with, says lead researcher Alex Rondinone.
"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," he explains. "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."
The technology used to catalyze the chemical process is in the form of a ‘nanotech wafer’ — a small device with spikes built out of common materials such as copper, carbon and nitrogen. After adding water and the CO2, it’s then given a small zap of electricity, with the Ethanol being the end result.
So yes, technically, scientists have found a way to turn disastrous chemicals in the atmosphere into alcohol. It’s now 5 o’clock everywhere …
However, climate change is just like every other problem on earth — we can’t just drink ourselves stupid until it’s fixed. The resulting Ethanol, Rondinone says, contains small quantities of formate, a toxic chemical to humans. “I would not advise people to drink it without further purification,” he adds.
And it would take a proverbial fuck-ton of frat parties to drink enough booze to counteract what we put into the atmosphere each year as far as carbon emissions anyway. One Reddit user estimates every human on the planet would be responsible for consuming 11 liters a day of straight 100 proof alcohol to break even on our estimated 29 Gigatons of CO2 output every calendar cycle.
Even then, the body breaks down the alcohol on its own, the result being CO2 emitted through breathing. Trying to whiskey our way out of this mess would essentially be a wash.
But Rondinone and his team see great potential in the process. They think that by turning CO2 into Ethanol when there is a surplus of energy being produced by renewable resources — such as through wind turbines and solar panels — the stockpile could then be used when there isn’t any wind or on cloudy days. Basically, it would help even out some of the problems while we figure out how to not be so reliant on fossil fuels.
We’re still fucked as a species, but now we’re just less fucked than before with potentially more to drink for everyone.
That’s not the worst news ever.