At the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMR) a research team led by the chemist Prof. Dr. Ingo Krossing has developed a new system for producing methanol that uses CO2 and hydrogen.

Substituting methanol can for example, be used as an environmentally friendly alternative for gasoline.  The FMR team’s goal is to harness the power of CO2 on a large scale and integrate it into the utilization cycle as a sustainable form of energy production.

For methanol production Krossing’s doctoral candidates combine the carbon dioxide with hydrogen in a high-pressure environment based on a process known as hydrogenolysis.

The researchers at FMR 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.

Catalyst Test Station at FMR with Elias Frei. Click image for the largest view.

Doctoral candidate Elias Frei has already been conducting research on methanol for several years explaining, “Our goal is to develop new catalyst systems and methods for accelerating the chemical reaction even more.”

Frei and his colleague Dr. Marina Artamonova are also testing techniques in which the catalysts are impregnated with ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state that cover the catalyst like a thin film. The ionic liquids help to fix CO2 and hydrogen to the catalyst and remove the products methanol and water from it.

The conversion leads to the production of pure methanol, which is currently used as a component in the chemical industry and as a motor fuel. When used as an alternative to gasoline it is less dangerous and less harmful to the environment than conventional fuels.

The team believes in about two years the researchers will to be able to produce methanol on a mass scale according to this technique. Then the CO2 will be filtered out of the waste gas stream of a combined heat and power plant and used to produce methanol.

When methanol is burned in a motor, CO2 is released again. When the same molecule is used twice, the FMR press release said, “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.”  That’s an interesting conclusion.

Methanol is also used as a chemical means of hydrogen storage and could thus also be used to power the fuel cells of automobiles in the future.

Frey said, “There is enough energy out there, but it needs to be stored. 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.”

Sounds great.  Another process to use CO2 is always welcome.  Yet here again as seen many times now over the past few years the researchers haven’t explained where the hydrogen is going to come from.  Regular readers know that coming up with the hydrogen is the first and most energy-demanding step in any successful process of this type.

Methanol is great stuff; it’s been in use since the ancient Egyptians used it to embalm folks that had passed away.  With 4 hydrogen atoms added to a carbon and oxygen pair methanol is a solid choice for fuels, chemicals and is stable at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.

But so far the microorganisms are the leaders in low cost methanol and that’s due to their ability to cleave apart the water yo free the hydrogen and build the methanol.

That’s the target to beat.


2 Comments so far

  1. Al Fin on June 14, 2012 7:19 AM

    Methanol has a lot of potential. It is best made from natural gas or coal. Methanol can then be converted into gasoline by the MTG (methanol to gasoline) process developed by Mobil.

    The uneconomic idea of converting CO2 into methanol arises from the concept that the Earth is being killed by a gas comprising 0.04% of the atmosphere. A gas which has been shown to be decoupled from temperature in past geologic times, and which appears to be not so tightly coupled to temperatures in modern times.

    CO2 has many useful and economic applications. Turning CO2 into methanol or hydrocarbons is much like forcing water to run uphill. You can do it — but you should have a very good reason. And it’s going to cost you.

  2. Alex P. on June 14, 2012 11:02 AM

    Methanol as transportation fuel is really interesting, but the CO2 hydrogenation is not the smarter route at all, needing 3 mole of hydrogen per mole of MeOH (and producing useless water, too). The most interesting option is by biomass (or fossil fuels) gasificaction, yielding per se one mole of H2 per mole of CO and needing only one other mole of H2 to externally fed to the process (from biomass, via water electrolisys, etc…).

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