Saturday, May 2, 2009

CO2 can be turned into methanol

CO2 is the biggest reason why world today faces very difficult challenge in overcoming the climate change problem caused mostly by excessive CO2 emissions. These excessive emissions are mostly the result of fossil fuels burning because world needs energy, and energy demands keeps on growing all the time, so fossil fuels are really a necessary evil we need to satisfy our everyday needs.

Carbon dioxide, result of fossil fuels burning is hot topic around the globe, and is described by many as No.1 cause for climate change problem. Scientist believe that we should reduce our CO2 emissions as much as possible to keep current levels of CO2 in atmosphere and avoid the worst possible global warming scenario. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a 60% reduction of global carbon dioxide emissions is needed if carbon dioxide concentrations are to stabilize at present-day levels. But with renewable energy sector still miles away from being competitive on global scale this is very unrealistically to expect, so therefore science is looking for new solutions - like for instance turning CO2 into methanol or some other useful chemical compound. You think this is impossible? Not anymore, just ask the scientists at at the Singapore-based Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN).

Carbon dioxide into methanol - principle.

These scientific visionaries have made an unprecedented breakthrough in transforming carbon dioxide, a most common greenhouse gas, into methanol, a widely used form of industrial feedstock and clean-burning biofuel. Their secret is in using so called "organocatalysts", organocatalysts were used by researchers to activatee carbon dioxide in a mild and non-toxic process to produce the more useful chemical compound. This really has the potential to be one of the most important discoveries in the energy world.

At the Singapore-based Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, scientists have managed to make carbon dioxide react with a stable organocatalyst called N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC) under mild conditions in dry air. As senior lab officer at IBN Siti Nurhanna Riduan said: “NHCs have shown tremendous potential for activating and fixing carbon dioxide and our work can contribute towards transforming excess carbon dioxide in the environment into useful products, such as methanol.”

To do this, scientists require a combination of silica and hydrogen – called hydrosilane – hydrosilane is then added to the NHC-activated carbon dioxide, which is transformed into methanol through the process of hydrolysis. Dr Yugen Zhang, IBN team leader and principal research scientist explained the role of hydrosilane by saying:"Hydrosilane provides hydrogen, which bonds with carbon dioxide in a reduction reaction. This carbon dioxide reduction is efficiently catalyzed by NHCs even at room temperature. Methanol can be easily obtained from the product of the carbon dioxide reaction." He also added that their previous research on NHCs has demonstrated their multiple applications as powerful antioxidants to fight degenerative diseases, and as effective catalysts to transform sugars into an alternative energy source. With this discovery they have shown that NHCs can also be applied successfully to the conversion of carbon dioxide into methanol, helping to unleash the potential of this highly abundant gas.

Similar scientific research have become very important because world seeks all available solutions to fight against global warming and climate change. It has to be said here that primary goal of IBN's research was to make the mass production of methanol more cost-effective, in the process reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released in the earth's atmosphere. As you can see there is double benefit from this scientific discovery: less CO2 in the atmosphere and real possibility of mass methanol production.

Hopefully there will be more similar scientific discoveries in years to come because only science can save us from global warming. I mean you don't really expect politics to solve this problem, do you?


Mitchell said...

great discussion. I was always curious if CO2 could be turned into anything useful. Thank you for posting this

Jamie said...

can methanol be turned to co2 too?

Davor Habjanec said...

Yes, methanol can be turned to carbon dioxide using very common process: burning.
Methanol burns in air forming carbon dioxide and water:
2 CH3OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 4 H2O
A methanol flame is almost colorless in bright sunlight conditions, causing an additional safety hazard around open methanol flames.

Anonymous said...

that's bollocks, chemistry can't bring you enough energy

Anonymous said...

what is hydrosilane ? what is its structure ?
what kind of NHC is used to do this ? pls answer