Scientists Can Turn CO2 Into Ethanol—And They Figured It Out By Accident

In October 2016, scientists accidentally turned carbon dioxide (CO2) into ethanol, a fuel. Whoops! This unexpected result could be huge in combatting climate change caused by CO2 in the atmosphere.

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How Did It Happen?

Things don't always go exactly according to plan. And sometimes, that can be a really good thing. Take, for instance, that time in October of 2016 when some scientists working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee tried to turn carbon dioxide into methane. It didn't work. Instead, the scientists got ethanol, a renewable fuel. This was a surprise because, well, the CO2 converted to ethanol surprisingly easily. The scientists didn't think the catalysts they were working with could produce ethanol from CO2 on its own. This catalyst produces a yield as high as 70 percent, meaning the process barely wastes much carbon dioxide or catalyst. What you get is all fuel, baby! Better yet, the process is cheap and scalable because it uses common materials and can be done at room temperature. The ethanol that comes from it is ready to be used as-is.

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This Could Be A Really Big Deal

If you haven't put it together yet, this accidental discovery could mean big things for combating global warming. Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases in our atmosphere contributing to climate change. Finding a way to cheaply, easily, and efficiently turn the bad stuff into renewable fuel seems kind of like a dream come true, doesn't it?

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Written by Curiosity Staff January 6, 2017

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