Alcohol Production from Carbon Dioxide

An electrochemical process on a metal electrode catalyst is used to produce alcohols such as ethanol, ethylene, propanol, acetic acid, ethane, and formic acid from the direct conversion of carbon dioxide

The Need

In the United States, there is an increasing interest in ethanol as an alternative fuel source to decrease the dependence on fossil fuels. In 2012, the National Corn Growers Association reported that 27.3% of the corn harvested in the U.S. was used for the production of ethanol. This has sparked a debate on whether corn should be used as food or fuel. In addition, production of ethanol from corn is not very energy efficient and requires massive amounts of water for corn cultivation and processing. Therefore, more sustainable and energy efficient methods to manufacture ethanol are needed that use feedstocks that do not compete with food supply.

The Technology

Researchers at The Ohio State University, led by Dr. Anne Co, developed a method to produce alcohol from the direct conversion of carbon dioxide. Dr. Co utilized electrochemical processes on a metal catalyst resulting in over 50% selectivity for hydrocarbon formation. Carbon dioxide for this process can be scrubbed from the air or various highly concentrated sources, such as waste streams from chemical plants or coal power plants.

Commercial Applications

  • Production of ethanol, propanol, ethylene, acetic acid, ethane, and formic acid


  • Mitigate dependence on corn to produce ethanol
  • More energy efficient that current processes to produce ethanol
  • Production is performed at ambient pressures and temperatures
  • Utilizes carbon dioxide, which comprises 82% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, as chemical feedstock

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