Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee were looking for a way to convert carbon dioxide into something useful. As a first step they ran it through a process involving water, electricity and tiny spikes of carbon and copper.
It turns out, that’s all they had to do. The CO2 changed to ethanol, a fuel we use today to power our cars.
“It was a huge surprise,” said Adam Rondinone, who headed up the team that made that discovery. “It was the sort of thing that makes you glad to be a scientist.”
The process could have special applications in a state like Texas that not only produces a lot of CO2, but also produces a lot of wind power. The reason is the way the electric grid works, when it’s loaded with intermittent, renewable energy.
“When there’s extra electricity on the grid, when the wind turbines are really moving fast, instead of going and turning down the other [power plants] which costs money to do, we could just dump that into ethanol,” Rondinone said. “And, then, the ethanol could be distributed and used.”