Methanol isn’t new as a fuel – late in the 20th century it gained some traction, especially as a blend-in in gasoline, but it’s faded since then as a transportation option. It burns cleaner than gasoline, but the process to make it has an environmental impact.
Now a team of German researchers is looking to pump new life into methanol as transportation alt-fuel by packaging it as a way to use carbon dioxide. Doing so, they say, could reduce the CO2 emissions by 50 percent.
You know carbion dioxide: dreaded CO2, scourge of the earth, greenhouse gas extraordinaire. We’ve got more of it than we know what to do with, but the researchers, at the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF) in Germany, led by the chemist Ingo Krossing, thinks it is closing in on a way to use CO2 on a big scale to produce methanol.
Methanol – widely used as a chemical – is a simple alcohol with the chemical formula CH3OH. It’s typically produced through a two-step process that uses catalysts to convert methane, a component in natural gas, to make a syngas. The syngas is then processed into methanol.
Put most basically, the Freiburg team wants to simplify the process, combining carbon dioxide with hydrogen to make methanol. Sounds great, but this is an energy intensive process, requiring a good deal of heat, for starters. Then there’s the matter of hydrogen — it takes additional energy to produce hydrogen (possibly emitting more CO2).
Still, the Freiburg team seems to be suggesting that they’ve got an efficient way to pull it off, citing catalysts that allow the process, known as hydrogenolysis, to occur at lower temperatures, and saying they can get a pure version of methane if the catalysts are impregnated with ionic liquid that helps to fix CO2 and hydrogen to the catalyst.