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CO2 Emissions

Published on June 14th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill


Turning Carbon Dioxide Into a Green Fuel

June 14th, 2012 by  

A research team is working on turning carbon dioxide into methanol to use later as a green fuel.

The researchers from the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF), led by the chemist Prof. Dr. Ingo Krossing, have developed a new system that produces methanol from CO2 and hydrogen. They hope to eventually be able to harness the power of CO2 on a large scale and integrate it back into the utilization cycle as a sustainable form of energy production.

In order to produce methanol, Krossing’s doctoral candidates combine the carbon dioxide with hydrogen in a high pressure environment, a process known as hydrogenolysis.

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

The researchers at FMF 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.



Frei and colleague Dr. Marina Artamonova have also been testing techniques by which the catalysts are impregnated with ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state that cover the catalyst like a thin film. This would help fix the CO2 and hydrogen to the catalyst and therefore remove methanol and water. This conversion would subsequently lead to the production of pure methanol. The researchers believe that in two years they will be able to produce methanol on a mass scale using this technique.

The theory runs that the CO2 would be filtered out of the waste gas stream of a combined heat and power plant and used to create methanol. This methanol would be used in motors, but because it was being used twice — so to speak — 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.

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

Source: Freiburg Materials Research Center
Image Source: joezero5 on Flickr

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About the Author

I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket!

I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

  • John Francis

    Josh, the earth has been through cycles of existence they say. It may have taken 3 cycles of our sun exploding and reforming to explain the presence of some elements-believe like uranium;gold;titanium,etc. Look at the 300 yr study br Dr Art robinson based on Sargasso sea sediment. The temp of earth is a sine wave. Relax, and trust the Creator(God-not to offend).
    The car I drive now is so incredibly clean to that which I drove in the mid 60’s.

    • Bob_Wallace

      John, you’re kind of right when you say that the temperature of the Earth has moved from hot to cold to hot multiple times over its very long, billions years history.

      The change has not been a sine wave. A sine wave or sinusoid is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation. There’s nothing smooth or regular about shifts in the Earth’s temperature. Some cycles are long, some short.

      But, that aside, saying that the Earth’s temperature has risen and fallen over the eons is only a description of what has happened, it’s not a description of why it has happened. There’s no “temperature pendulum” swinging the Earth from hot to cold and back to hot. Each of the changes has been driven by some physical force.

      Right now the Earth is heating. And it is heating very rapidly. Extremely rapidly.

      So scientists have looked for a physical reason. It’s not because the Earth has moved closer to the Sun. It’s not because the Sun has gotten hotter. It’s not because there have been a lot of eruptions of extremely hot magma from beneath the Earth’s crust.

      What has changed is the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. CO2 traps heat, we’ve known that since the 1800s. It’s been proven over and over and over and over and over. This is simply chemistry.

      We can take samples of the CO2 and determine where it came from. Chemistry. It comes from burning fossil fuels.

      Trust the Creator if you like. But do what your Creator probably ordered you to do. Be a good steward and take care of the gift your Creator has given you. God is not your housekeeper.

  • Pingback: Hot news in cleantech: Japan's future house; energy storage rocks - reneweconomy.com.au : Renew Economy()

  • David Huang

    The whole idea is energy storage. So far, hydrocarbon is the best in terms of energy density and environmental impact. Methanol energy density is more than 20 times higher than the best battery. Hydro storage is the worst idea to provide large scale energy storage. CO2 recycles as energy storage solution will win the race.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I wonder about your claims.

      What is the efficiency of storing energy as methanol?  Pump-up hydro and grid batteries are around 85% efficient.

      Cost?  Can methanol compete in an open market?  New grid storage batteries are looking very promising for setting the cost bar downward.

      I really doubt that methanol can compete with electricity for vehicle energy storage.  Batteries are improving and dropping in price.  I don’t think methanol can keep up with very efficient batteries/electric motors.

      Density – does it matter all that much?  Not likely for grid storage. Utility scale storage real estate is pretty cheap.  You can park a lot of batteries in a multi-story cheap-to-build structure.  We’ve got hundreds/thousands of existing dams that could be converted to pump-up if hydro turns out to be the cheapest.

      Additionally, there’s a cost savings realized by getting rid of liquid fuel distribution infrastructure.  We’ve got boocoos of tanker trucks and rail cars hauling liquid fuel to market.  Moving energy distribution to the grid cuts out all that cost.

    • J_GHMG

      You are completely right. 1 liter of methanol at ambient conditions contains more hydrogen than 1 liter of liquid hydrogen at staggering -253 *C.

  • CKmapawatt

    Um…where does the hydrogen come from? It takes energy to produce hydrogen in a useable form . Not quite sure this would prevent that much co2 from entering the atmosphere.

    • ThomasGerke

      At the end of this decade there will propably be enough solar & wind capacity in Germany to cover move than 100% of power demand at times. While pump storage, battery storage (in vehicles & homes) aswell as heat storage will catch alot of that excess energy, there will be a growing need for ways of storing renewable electricity in chemical form. The conversion to to hydrogen is the first step. 

  • Actually, CO2 has no energy. The hydrogen is the energy part of it.  CO2 combines with hydrogen and on burning it comes back as CO2. This does not reduce the CO2 build up.  It makes a liquid form of gaseous hydrogen which is convenient and can be used easily in the present vehicles.

  • ThomasGerke

    I just want to add that it would of course be possible to use this methode in combination of biogas power plants. In the process of producing and  burning bio-gas, significant amounts of CO2 are released. 

    Since that CO2 was originally taken out of the atmosphere by plants, it’s part of the natural cycle of things = sustainable. 

    This is where first trials of power-to-gas technology are heading… combining biogas power stations with hydrogen production in order to great sustainable methan (natural gas equivalent). 

    Being able to fill solar / windpower into the tank of cars that way, would be truely awesome though. 😀

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