Research by Professor Marc Koper and PhD student Jing Shen at University in Leiden, the Netherlands, discovered a new catalyst that makes natural gas from CO2. The team is showing how this process can be implemented in a cost-effective and controllable way for carbon dioxide recycling.

The conversion of the greenhouse gas CO2 into natural gas is achieved using a chemical process in which CO2 is bubbled through an acid solution. The solution contains a graphite electrode – to which a small negative voltage is applied – with a cobalt-porphyrin catalyst attached to it. It was already known that this catalyst can convert CO2 into carbon monoxide and methane, but the reaction always released unwanted hydrogen.

The team’s research paper has been published in Nature Communications.

In their investigation, Koper and Shen show for the first time how the process works. They therefore know exactly what the best acidity degree is in order to minimize the amount of hydrogen and to convert as much CO2 as possible into natural gas.

What is striking news is that the catalyst is entirely made up of common materials. The cobalt porphyrin is a part of vitamin B12, while the graphite for the electrode is similar to a pencil lead. Therefore the catalyst only costs a few euros. Comparable methods of converting CO2 into methane often use rare and expensive metals, such as platinum.

Professor Koper hopes that this discovery will bring his dream a little closer to realization: to convert CO2 and water, the by-products of fuels, into new energy or building blocks for the chemical industry. If this can be achieved using solar energy, this process will also offer a method of storing renewable energy.

Koper explains the viewpoint in Germany with, ‘We’re generating more and more electricity using solar panels and windmills, but that energy is by no means always used straight away. In Germany, for example, too much renewable electricity is generated sometimes, so you want to store it. That is the most important potential application of our research: to use renewable energy efficiently by converting water and CO2 into valuable products.”

Professor Koper thinks that it will take a while to get to that point. “This is something for the long term and it could be another fifty years before we have a method that makes valuable products and is also robust, scalable and cost-effective. But I’m nevertheless convinced that this is the way to go. It will not be easy, but this discovery is helpful. We have to find a fundamentally different way to manage energy, and our discovery can contribute to that,” he said.

This work is quite interesting. The idea of recycling CO2 back into a useful fuel, a process that could continue indefinitely, would go a long way to satisfy the hysterics on CO2.

The first problem noted in the study abstract is the process makes a lot of carbon monoxide (CO). There will need to be a solution for this matter for more industrial directed progress. The second problem is, and the news piece isn’t real clear on this, is coming up with the 4 atoms of hydrogen for each carbon atom to make the methane and getting virtually all of them made back into the methane molecule without them simply escaping. Third, the O2 could simply be stored for use or just released back to the atmosphere.

The hydrogen matter aside, the Koper/Shen team has made a huge leap forward.

Its another great idea, proven up in part, that is showing the huge potential that catalyst research is offering for the future.


2 Comments so far

  1. MattMusson on September 3, 2015 7:23 AM

    A Oceanside Thorium Reactor could pull C02 out of sea water and create Natural Gas.

  2. Parc Life EC on October 1, 2015 8:52 AM

    i am very sure that this work is quite interesting. The idea of recycling CO2 back into a useful fuel, a process that could continue indefinitely, would go a long way to satisfy the hysterics on CO2.

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