CO2 Into Methanol — Highly Effective Conversion Method Developed

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A very effective means of converting CO2 directly into methanol fuel has just been created, thanks to researchers from Université Laval.

"Car exhaust releasing carbon dioxide. Researchers have been looking for a way to convert carbon dioxide into methanol in a single step using energy-efficient processes for years." Image Credit: Car Exhaust via Flickr CC
“Car exhaust releasing carbon dioxide. Researchers have been looking for a way to convert carbon dioxide into methanol in a single step using energy-efficient processes for years.”
Image Credit: Car Exhaust via Flickr CC

A single-step way to convert carbon dioxide directly into methanol has long been a goal of researchers in the field. “In the presence of oxygen, methanol combustion produces CO2 and water,” explained Professor Frédéric-Georges Fontaine. “Chemists are looking for catalysts that would yield the opposite reaction. That would allow us to slash greenhouse gas emissions by synthesizing a fuel that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The new catalyst — created by Fontaine and his research team — is composed of two different chemical groups. The first is borane — a compound made of boron, carbon, and hydrogen. The second is phosphine — a compound made of phosphorus, carbon, and hydrogen.

“Unlike most catalysts developed thus far to convert CO2 into methanol, ours contains no metal, which reduces both the costs and toxic hazard of the catalyst,” stated Fontaine.

Université Laval provides details on the new method:

CO2 to methanol catalysis requires a source of hydrogen and chemical energy. The researchers had the idea of using a compound called hydroborane (BH3), and the results have been spectacular. The reaction achieved is two times more effective than the best catalyst known — and it produces little waste. What makes the discovery even more compelling is the fact that the chemical reaction does not damage the catalyst, which can be reactivated by adding new substrate.

There is a downside (as of now) to this method, though. “Our approach to creating methanol is highly effective from a chemistry standpoint, but for now the process is expensive,” explained Professor Fontaine. “It takes a lot of energy to synthesize hydroborane, which makes it more expensive than methanol. We are working on ways to make the process more profitable by optimizing the reaction and exploring other hydrogen sources.”

Clearly, until “the price is right,” this scientific advancement won’t be having an affect on the market.

The new findings were just detailed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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