Scientists at ETH Zurich and oil and gas company Total have developed a new catalyst that converts CO2 and hydrogen into methanol. Offering realistic market potential, the technology paves the way for the sustainable production of fuels and chemicals.
The global economy still relies on the fossil carbon sources of petroleum, natural gas and coal, not just to produce fuel, but also as a raw material used by the chemical industry to manufacture plastics and countless other chemical compounds. Although efforts have been made for some time to find ways of manufacturing liquid fuels and chemical products from alternative, sustainable resources, these have not yet progressed beyond niche applications.
Scientists at ETH Zurich have now teamed up with the French oil and gas company Total to develop a new technology that efficiently converts CO2 and hydrogen directly into methanol. Methanol is regarded as a commodity or bulk chemical. It is possible to convert it into fuels and a wide variety of chemical products, including those that today are mainly based on fossil resources. Moreover, methanol itself has the potential to be utilised as a propellant, in methanol fuel cells, for example.
The core of the new approach is a chemical catalyst based on indium oxide, which was developed by Javier Pérez-Ramírez, Professor of Catalysis Engineering at ETH Zurich, and his team. Just a few years ago, the team successfully demonstrated in experiments that indium oxide was capable of catalysing the necessary chemical reaction. Even at the time, it was encouraging that doing so generated virtually only methanol and almost no by-products other than water. The catalyst also proved to be highly stable. However, indium oxide was not sufficiently active as a catalyst; the large quantities needed prevent it from being a commercially viable option.
More at Phys Org