Converting Carbon Dioxide
March 6, 2014

Converting Carbon Dioxide

Gas prices. Need I say any more to illicit a collective groan from most of the people reading this? Gas prices are both high and unavoidable, making them a sore subject for most motorists out there, but what can be done about it? Fuel is a finite resource, after all, and while I am not saying that there are some extremes in the logic of determining the price of fuel per gallon, it is a resource that many of us cannot do without. After all, how would you protest high gas prices? Not buy gas? In areas with little or no public transportation system, you need a car. It’s how you get to work to provide both for yourself and for your family. No matter how high gas prices get, people will have to pay them, which, until a reasonable substitute can be realized and made achievable for the general populous, is just the way that things are.

Fortunately, that scenario may soon become a thing of the past. Researchers at Stanford University, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Technical University of Denmark have discovered a way in which they can cleanly convert carbon dioxide into methanol. Using a new nickel-gallium catalyst, they were able to successfully enact the conversion with few of side-products produced by a more conventional catalyst. The idea: to produce methanol from clean sources while producing little carbon monoxide as a result. The goal: to develop a large-scale manufacturing process that is able to produce methanol from carbon dioxide that would be nonpolluting and carbon neutral, using clean hydrogen. A fantastic goal both for motorists and environmentalists alike.

Nearly 65 million tons of methanol are produced each year for the production of paints, polymers, glues, plastics, and many other products. In current methanol production, natural gases and water are converted into synthesis gas (called “syngas”) which is mostly carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. The syngas is then converted over to methanol using a high-pressure process using a catalyst of copper, zinc, and aluminum. Researchers studied this reaction in order to find the exact source of it so that they could possible replicate the results while lessening the by-products. After many tests, they came across nickel-gallium. Nickel-gallium produces much methanol than the more conventional catalyst as well as considerably less carbon monoxide. More so, both nickel and gallium are relatively abundant, as gallium is widely used in various electronics. This suggests that their goal of eventually scaling up this process for industrial use could certainly be a possibility. However, the process has yet to be made anywhere near to ideal. While it does produce less carbon monoxide, the goal is to make it truly clean and carbon-neutral, and for that there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done.

Even so, a step in the right direction is a step worth making note of.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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