Alcohol is one of the most important intermediate products for the chemical industry, but is still predominantly produced from non-renewable raw materials. The group of C1-C4 alcohols (methanol, ethanol, propanol, butanol) can be processed into polyethylene, synthetic rubber and acetic acid. So far, the alcohol has been synthesized from crude oil which many companies now want to replace with a sustainable source of raw materials. Today, alcohol can already be produced by synthesizing hydrogen and CO2. This means that it is already possible to use the hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energies. However, this process is very energy-intensive and therefore currently not a competitive option. This is due to the energy lost during electrolysis, on the one hand, and energy losses during hydrogen storage, on the other.
This is where a research project of the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Technology, the universities of Stuttgart and Bochum and the companies Siemens and Mitsubishi comes in. The aim of the ElkaSyn project is to develop a new method of producing alcohol in an energy-efficient manner. The new one-step process has an energy-saving potential of 20 per cent compared to the previous two-step process. Instead of hydrogen, the basic material used here is water, which reacts with CO2 to form alcohol. Two different production methods are being tested for this process: one operating at high pressure, the other at normal pressure. Different catalyst metals will also be tried out.
The technology is currently being tested in a laboratory with a 300 ml reactor. Industrial-scale testing is expected to begin once the project has been successfully completed in 2022.