University of Adelaide in Australia scientists have a new process for carbon neutral fuel with the development of a new efficient catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air into synthetic natural gas in a ‘clean’ process using solar energy.

Process Graphic of Doped Metal Organic Framework CO2 H2 to Methane Catalyst. Image Credit: University of Adelaide. Click image for the largest view.

The research undertaken by University of Adelaide in collaboration with CSIRO could make viable a process that has enormous potential to replace fossil fuels and continue to use existing carbon-based fuel technologies without increasing atmospheric CO2.

The catalyst the researchers have developed effectively drives the process of combining CO2 with hydrogen to produce methane (the main component of the fossil fuel -natural gas-) and water. Currently, natural gas is one of the main fuels used for industrial activities and home and office heating.

University of Adelaide PhD candidate Renata Lippi said, “Capturing carbon from the air and utilizing it for industrial processes is one strategy for controlling CO2 emissions and reducing the need for fossil fuels.”

Lippi is first author of the research published online ahead of print in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

“But for this to be economically viable, we need an energy efficient process that utilizes CO2 as a carbon source. Research has shown that the hydrogen can be produced efficiently with solar energy. But combining the hydrogen with CO2 to produce methane is a safer option than using hydrogen directly as an energy source and allows the use of existing natural gas infrastructure.”

“The main sticking point, however, is the catalyst – a compound needed to drive the reaction because CO2 is usually a very inert or unreactive chemical.”

The catalyst was synthesized using porous crystals called metal-organic frameworks which allow precise spatial control of the chemical elements.

Dr. Danielle Kennedy, AIM Future Science Platform Director with CSIRO said, “The catalyst discovery process involved the synthesis and screening of more than one hundred materials. With the help of CSIRO’s rapid catalyst testing facility we were able to test all of them quickly allowing the discovery to be made in a much shorter period of time. We hope to continue collaborating with the University of Adelaide to allow renewable energy and hydrogen to be applied to chemical manufacturing by Australian industry.”

With other catalysts there have been issues around poor CO2 conversion, unwanted carbon-monoxide production, catalyst stability, low methane production rates and high reaction temperatures.

This new catalyst efficiently produces almost pure methane from CO2. Carbon-monoxide production has been minimized and stability is high under both continuous reaction for several days and after shutdown and exposure to air. Importantly, only a small amount of the catalyst is needed for high production of methane which increases economic viability. The catalyst also operates at mild temperatures and low pressures, making solar thermal energy possible.

Project leader Professor Christian Doonan, Director of the University’s Center for Advanced Nanomaterials said, “What we’ve produced is a highly active, highly selective (producing almost pure methane without side products) and stable catalyst that will run on solar energy. This makes carbon neutral fuel from CO2 a viable option.”

Two CO2 to fuels in two days. Something is going to work one day. Then, what might get to commercial scale or even home furnace conversion? Oh, My, . . .


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