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Hydrogen from ethanol

Large scale: yeasts produce ethanol by fermenting sugarcane broth

Eduardo CesarLarge scale: yeasts produce ethanol by fermenting sugarcane brothEduardo Cesar

Automobiles may one day run on hydrogen produced from sugarcane.  But first, scientists must increase the efficiency of the chemical reaction that extracts hydrogen from ethanol.  Hydrogen is normally produced from natural gas.  The same reaction would also produce acetaldehyde and ethyl acetate, two solvents highly valued by a wide range of industries and normally produced from petroleum.  Chemists already know that the reaction happens faster and uses up less energy when ethanol is placed in contact with a porous material made of alumina (a type of aluminum oxide) and copper.  A group of researchers headed by Leandro Martins, from the Chemistry Institute at São Paulo State University (Unesp) in the city of Araraquara, has now found that the reaction becomes even more efficient when part of the copper mixed with the alumina has been oxidized.  Martins and his colleagues at the institute, Sandra Pulcinelli and Celso Santilli, arrived at this result partly because of an analysis made of the crystalline structure of several kinds of materials based on porous alumina and copper by Aline Passos, Amélie Rochet and Valérie Briois using the Soleil synchrotron light source in France. “This way, we can use ethanol to make other products with a higher commercial value than alcohol, using relatively cheap metals such as copper,” explains Wellington Cassinelli, who is doing postdoctoral work with Santilli.  Cassinelli is the first author of the article that describes the research, published as the cover story in ChemCatChem, one of the leading publications in the field of chemical catalysis.

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