Turning water into wine might not have worked out too well for Ron in Harry Potter, but for scientists at the University of Bristol, a recent scientific breakthrough could see to the world’s first beer-based sustainable petrol.

As part of a bid to find more sustainable fuel sources, chemists at the university have been experimenting with this popular alcoholic beverage to form part of an ‘ethanol broth’. The team then use a catalyst designed to chemically convert it into butanol.

“Alcoholic drinks are an ideal model for industrial ethanol fermentation broths”


Professor Duncan Wass, whose team led the research, says: “The alcohol in alcoholic drinks is actually ethanol – exactly the same molecule that we want to convert into butanol as a petrol replacement.

“So alcoholic drinks are an ideal model for industrial ethanol fermentation broths – ethanol for fuel is essentially made using a brewing process.

“If our technology works with alcoholic drinks – especially beer which is the best model – then it shows it has the potential to be scaled up to make butanol as a petrol replacement on an industrial scale.”

Butanol benefits

Butanol is a much better alternative to the current most popular sustainable fuel, bioethanol, as ethanol has a lower energy density, mixes too easily with water and can be fairly corrosive to engines.

Although the team has advised the use of beer won’t work in the long run due to its raw materials competing with the production of food crops, it shows that there are ways to obtain ethanol for fuel from other fermented sources which makes beer an excellent readily available model to test the University’s technology.

Professor Wass adds: “Turning beer into petrol was a bit of fun, and something to do with the leftovers of the lab Christmas party, but it has a serious point.

“Beer is actually an excellent model for the mixture of chemicals we would need to use in a real industrial process, so it shows this technology is one step closer to reality.”

To stay tuned to research at the University, head over to the University of Bristol website or follow them on Twitter here: @BristolUni.