An international research team has discovered a potentially clean, low-cost way to convert carbon dioxide into methanol, a key ingredient in the production of plastics, adhesives and solvents, and a promising fuel for transportation.
Scientists from Stanford University, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Technical University of Denmark combined theory and experimentation to identify a new nickel-gallium catalyst that converts hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methanol with fewer side-products than the conventional catalyst. The results are published in the March 2 online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry.
"Methanol is processed in huge factories at very high pressures using hydrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from natural gas," said study lead author Felix Studt, a staff scientist at SLAC. "We are looking for materials than can make methanol from clean sources under low-pressure conditions, while generating low amounts of carbon monoxide."
The ultimate goal is to develop a large-scale manufacturing process that is nonpolluting and carbon neutral using clean hydrogen, the authors said.
"Imagine if you could synthesize methanol using hydrogen from renewable sources, such as water split by sunlight, and carbon dioxide captured from power plants and other industrial smokestacks," said co-author Jens Nrskov, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. "Eventually we would also like to make higher alcohols, such as ethanol and propanol, which, unlike methanol, can be directly added to gasoline today."
Worldwide, about 65 million metric tons of methanol are produced each year for use in the manufacture of paints, polymers, glues and other products. In a typical methanol plant, natural gas and water are converted to synthesis gas ("syngas"), which consists of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The syngas is then converted into methanol
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