Reusing CO2 as Fuel - Converting Carbon Dioxide to Ethanol

Converting Carbon Dioxide to Ethanol Converting Carbon Dioxide to Ethanol (hi-res image)
An inherent problem with renewable energy sources is that the amount of energy produced is variable. When too much energy is produced, it must be used or it will be wasted, and when too little energy is produced a secondary source is required. What is needed is a process that can be turned on and off as surplus energy permits and that can produce a useful product. Researchers at ORNL have developed a process for converting CO2 to ethanol by introducing CO2 onto a bed of carbon nanospikes and copper nanoparticles, that react electrochemically with the CO2 in the form of bicarbonate, producing ethanol. The process can be terminated and reinitiated at any point, and the yield is greater than the average yield of cellulosic-based ethanol production. This conversion process can be powered by the excess energy produced by renewable sources to reduce both the need for extra infrastructure and the introduction of CO2 into the atmosphere.

This project was accepted into TIP with two overarching project goals: evaluate the catalyst for performance in the context of typical industrial concerns of lifetime, durability, poisoning, and scale-up; then use that information to estimate the economic viability of the process as a source of fuel ethanol. Additionally, Dr. Rondinone’s team is conducting studies to understand efficiency limits and potential improvements.

Applications of this technology are primarily in the areas of fuel production and emergency energy production. Additionally, this method has the potential to be an economically viable alternative to the use of seed crops as precursors to ethanol production.

For more information, or to obtain an application to license this technology, please contact Eugene Cochran at 865-576-2830 or


Intellectual Property

Invention Disclosure No. 201403439

– Fact Sheet

– ORNL Press Release

Fed Business Ops:  

– Y. Song, R. Peng, D. K. Hensley, P. V. Bonnesen, L. Liang, Z. Wu, H. M. Meyer, M. Chi, C. Ma, B. G. Sumpter, A. J. Rondinone, Chemistry Select 2016, 1, 6055.


– Eugene Cochran, tel. 865-576-2830,

– Adam Rondinone, tel. 865-574-5035.