Researchers at Stanford Produce Ethanol From Carbon Dioxide Gas

Stanford University researchers have used copper and carbon dioxide to create synthetic ethanol that does not require corn. With further research, they might be able to replicate this action on a much larger scale, which may have a number of positive environmental impacts. Although electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular, they are still far away from ending Americans’ love affair with gas-powered vehicles. Luckily for clean air enthusiasts, researchers are working on ways to clean up the fuel to which we’re more accustomed.


For years, ethanol has been a gasoline additive that helps reduce air pollution while at the same time keeping car engines clean. Ethanol is produced from corn crops that make up hundreds of thousands of U.S farmland acreage. Last year, American ethanol consumption was over 14 billion gallons.

Recently, a group of scientists from Stanford University has found a method of forming ethanol that has no need for corn. If this method can be expanded on, it will allow farmland to be devoted to other crops in the food supply and reduce land clearing previously done to provide more farmland. Principal researcher Thomas Jaramillo said, “One of our long-range goals is to produce renewable ethanol in a way that doesn’t impact the global food supply.”


In order to do this, researchers discovered a way, using copper, to transform CO2 into ethanol and propanol. Based on earlier research work, the scientists used copper electrodes, measuring six square centimeters, a 600 fold increase over the copper crystals of the earlier experiments. The copper electrodes were submerged in water, and a reaction occurred. The electrodes were made of three different kinds of copper, but copper (751) fared better than the others in creating liquid fuels.

Next, researchers must find a way for this copper technique to be reproduced on a mass scale. Jaramillo said, “The eye on the prize is to create better catalysts that have game-changing potential by taking carbon dioxide as a feedstock and converting it into much more valuable products using renewable electricity or sunlight directly.”

Overall, this discovery could make a lasting difference at an environmental level, for both air and land resources, while we’re waiting for electric cars to become the norm.

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