A research team is working on turning carbon dioxide into methanol to use later as a green fuel.
The researchers from the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF), led by the chemist Prof. Dr. Ingo Krossing, have developed a new system that produces methanol from CO2 and hydrogen. They hope to eventually be able to harness the power of CO2 on a large scale and integrate it back into the utilization cycle as a sustainable form of energy production.
In order to produce methanol, Krossing’s doctoral candidates combine the carbon dioxide with hydrogen in a high pressure environment, a process known as hydrogenolysis.
Doctoral candidate Elias Frei has already been conducting research on methanol for several years. “Our goal is to develop new catalyst systems and methods for accelerating the chemical reaction even more,” explains Frei.
The researchers at FMF use the metal oxides copper, zinc, and zirconium dioxide as catalysts, enabling the reaction to happen at lower temperatures. In this way, the gases don’t have to be heated as much. Together the catalysts form a so-called mixed system of surface-rich porous solid matter with defined properties. If the catalysts consist of nanoparticles, their activity is increased even more.
Frei and colleague Dr. Marina Artamonova have also been testing techniques by which the catalysts are impregnated with ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state that cover the catalyst like a thin film. This would help fix the CO2 and hydrogen to the catalyst and therefore remove methanol and water. This conversion would subsequently lead to the production of pure methanol. The researchers believe that in two years they will be able to produce methanol on a mass scale using this technique.
The theory runs that the CO2 would be filtered out of the waste gas stream of a combined heat and power plant and used to create methanol. This methanol would be used in motors, but because it was being used twice — so to speak — it would theoretically be possible to use 50 percent less CO2 to create the same amount of energy.
The amount of methanol that could be converted from 10 percent of the yearly CO2 emissions in Germany would cover the country’s yearly fuel needs.
“There is enough energy out there, but it needs to be stored,” says Frei. “As a sustainable means of energy storage, methanol has potential in a wide range of areas. We want to use that potential, because the storage and conversion of energy are important topics for the future.”