University of Cincinnati researchers in Ohio are reporting the development of a catalytic hydroboration system for the “highly efficient” reduction of CO2 with a borane and then hydrolysis of the resulting methoxyboryl species to produce methanol (CH3OH) with a good yield.  In short form – the researchers have a system to take CO2 gas and reform it into methanol, the lightest alcohol.

Nickel Catalist for CO2 to Methanol Flowchart. Click image for the largest view.

The new paper published June 14th in the American Chemical Society journal Energy & Fuels reports a highly efficient nickel system for the catalytic hydroboration of CO2 to methoxyboryl species using a simple borane. The reactions operate at room temperature with turnover frequencies [495 h-1 based on B-H] at least 1 order of magnitude higher than those of the related reactions.

The improvement comes from the recent development of frustrated Lewis acid-base pair chemistry, which has led to alternative strategies for the reduction of CO2 to the methoxide level given either H2 or H3NBH3 9 as a hydrogen source.

The mechanism involves a nickel formate, formaldehyde, and a nickel methoxide as different reduced stages for the CO2. The reaction may also be catalyzed by an air-stable nickel formate.

It’s quite an involved process.  A look through the paper and the supporting documentation shows the lab effort was precise and over an extensive set of steps – very productive.  The process is also running at near ambient temperatures.  These are very good signs for further progress.   More research is under way to determine the mechanistic details and improve the catalytic efficiencies.  Its quite interesting news when the energy input is considered, too.

Yet there’s an avalanche of problems in those steps, too many to start an examination.  The researchers have managed to get process theory to work.  That’s great. There is also a matter of the chemical forms used – most everything is pure – which is OK, but the scale up would need some tolerances.

Another point is the inputs and wastes from the process are not addressed.  It’s likely that all the chemicals used can be recycled, but just what might be involved in that isn’t explored.

The CO2 source itself isn’t real clear either.  But the science is sound.  Perhaps it’s a starting point for mankind to join the planet’s carbon cycle.

But – getting the hydrogen isn’t going to be free.  The energy required isn’t explained, and most any chemical process of this kind is going to have a long input train from the raw materials to make the required chemicals on to the process itself and then recycle or dispose of the wastes.

Low temperature operation – great news.  Overall a fine effort to get to the goal.  There remain a lot of difficult unanswered questions and measures to take.  The team has a working model for the effort.

Can the new process scale up at economies of scale?  That doesn’t look too promising, but the first step is built and the nickel-based chemistry now has some legs to move on.

CO2 either as an atmospheric gas or a rich effluent source is a rich, diffused and uniform resource if a process can be invented to recycle it back with hydrogen to make a fuel product lots of the anti CO2 crowd would lose their issue.


6 Comments so far

  1. Jagdish on July 26, 2010 3:30 AM

    Any such process will require more energy than what is produced by burning the carbon. In this case as Borane and the processing effort.

  2. jp straley on July 26, 2010 6:36 AM

    The hydrogen and process energy to run a large plant making methanol with the B catalyst is from an industrial-size LFTR (Th) rxor, which is also splitting water with the high temperature S-I cycle. But can this compete economically with current methods of making MeOH out of natural gas? NG is pretty cheap right now, and will be for the next couple of decades.

    Also, for transportation fuel, MeOH is not very energy dense.

    So we shall see.


  3. JDE on July 26, 2010 6:57 PM

    Why? Does it make a profit? If not it’s foolish. Is it an attempt to “mitigate” CO2 within the atmosphere? If so why do they want to remove plant food from the atmosphere? We are currently residing at one of the lowest level, by huge margins, of atmospheric CO2 within the atmosphere. Spending money to incrementally lower something that needs no lowering is stupid.

  4. Further reading | FT Energy Source | on July 26, 2010 10:20 PM

    […] – Getting that CO² back into fuel […]

  5. JPK on August 20, 2010 5:18 PM

    Environmentalism is both as a philosopical & ideological phenomenon that you must be well understood about.

    You say that “We are currently at one of the lowest level, by huge margins, of atmosperic CO2 within the atmospere”, isn’t it?

    Sounds reasonable, perhaps?

    I will find out soon about the ideological unpredictability.

  6. Auto Traffic Review on March 7, 2011 7:55 AM

    I was seeking a post like this. Thanks a lot.

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