Mar 26, 2019 | Updated: 01:45 PM EDT

New source of fuel: converting methanol to ethanol using ultraviolet light

Feb 20, 2019 10:02 AM EST

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McGill University researchers found a new method in converting methanol to ethanol using ultraviolet light. 

Lead researcher and chemist Chao-Jun Li and his colleagues' utilized nanowires made from the gallium nitride--a semiconductor in 2014. This substance acts as a catalyst in converting methane gas into benzene. Catalysts are substances that speed up the reaction of different substances without being used in the process. Thus, they can do their job without being consumed. The chemical bonds between carbon atoms are rearranged by these nanowires made from gallium nitride in order to convert methanol to ethanol. Li and his team hypothesized that this process could also work with methanol. 

The scientists experimented with different compositions of the nanowire. The journal Chem published a study that showed magnesium-spiked gallium nitride nanowires work at optimal conditions to absorb ultraviolet light and utilize this energy in the conversion of ethanol from methanol. The team discovered that the surfaces of the nanowires become more negatively-charged than their cores because of the absorption of UV light. A reactive compound methyl carbene is produced by this charge as it removes a water molecule from an individual methanol molecule that is on the surface of the nanowire. Ethanol is produced as the water molecule moves away due to the reaction of methyl carbene with a neighboring methanol molecule. 

Liu and his team state that UV light is required in converting methanol to ethanol. In order for the process to be commercialized, the team has to fight a way on how to manipulate the nanowires to work with visible light. 

Other useful by-products can also be a result of the said process. This includes 1-propanol which is also alcohol that is used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. 

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