Methanol replacing hydrogen gas as the fuel of the future

Methanol replacing hydrogen gas as the fuel of the future
Dinko Chakarov with a laser-based vacuum system used to study the interaction between light and nanoparticles. Photo: Peter Widing / Chalmers

( -- Rather than releasing carbon dioxide into the air, it can be used to produce methanol – which is an excellent fuel for cars and airplanes – using solar energy. The technology already exists, and a major Nordic research initiative has now been launched that will make the process inexpensive and simple enough to be used on a large scale. Chalmers is heading the initiative.

​Producing using solar energy offers several important advantages compared to other energy systems. Methanol is easy to store, as opposed to electricity. As a vehicle fuel, it is ready to be used in the current infrastructure. Solar energy is the most effective form of generation compared to other renewable sources of energy. This is the point of departure for a four-year cooperation project headed by Dinko Chakarov, professor of physics at Chalmers.

"We have worked to produce using solar energy for many years, for example by studying how different surfaces affect reactions. However, hydrogen gas is still difficult to store and distribute. It is for this reason we have targeted producing methanol, which is easy to use as a fuel."

Hydrogen gas has been considered the vehicle fuel of the future for a long time, but achieving a functioning infrastructure for the gas has turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. Many researchers across the globe have thus redirected their research the past few years – as a result, for example, of the U.S Department of Energy's decision to stop funding hydrogen gas research from 2010, after many years of massive investments in hydrogen economy–related projects.

The hydrogen gas production results produced by Chalmers researchers, however, will be useful when the researchers make the move to methanol. Hydrogen gas is the first step in producing methanol, and both steps are basically catalysed with the same method. First the water molecules are split so that hydrogen and oxygen are formed. The hydrogen then reacts with carbon dioxide, and methanol is formed. Both of the reactions are forced through photocatalysis, which means that solar energy is directly transformed into chemical energy.

Methanol production also means that carbon dioxide becomes a resource – instead of a waste product that is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.

"Carbon dioxide currently comes from carbon dioxide separation during carbon combustion, for example," says Dinko Chakarov. "In the future, we hope it will be possible to condense carbon dioxide from the air, which would result in an entirely carbon dioxide neutral cycle."

The process for producing methanol with must become less expensive, more stable and easier to use for it to achieve a commercial breakthrough. However, there are already plants in place that produce methanol with the method or use parts of it, and the new research project will combine the different parts by involving seven research groups and companies.

"I do believe a large-scale breakthrough for the method is not that far down the road – perhaps ten years from now," says Dinko Chakarov. "I am convinced that we are going to improve the process, and it yields very effective usage of . For example, it is at least 50 times more effective than the 'shortcut' that involves producing methanol from biomass."

The Chalmers researchers' part involves, amongst other things, creating a photocatalytic system that is selective for methanol. They are also working to improve materials that capture sunlight, both in terms of absorbing the light more effectively and absorbing a broader area of the light spectrum. The Chalmers group builds on many years of research within nanotechnology. By using nanostructures in the material, they have previously been able to increase light absorption by over 50 per cent for some systems.

Facts on methanol

Methanol or methyl alcohol is the simplest of all alcohols, and its chemical name is CH3OH. Methanol can be mixed in petrol or, if slightly modified, be used alone in modern petrol engines. It can easily be transformed into DME or biodiesel and be used in modern diesel engines. It can also be used in fuel cells and be burned in existing power generation plants. Methanol can also be used as a raw material for many of the products that we currently obtain from oil, for example plastics.

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Team to chemically transform carbon dioxide into carbon-neutral liquid fuels

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Citation: Methanol replacing hydrogen gas as the fuel of the future (2011, December 15) retrieved 17 July 2019 from
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Dec 15, 2011
Since the physical chemistry of the CO2 in the air shows that additional CO2 (doubling, tripling) cannot trap enough additional energy to cause any significant global warming why is Chakarov pushing recycling CO2 into methanol, DM ether, or dimethylcarbonate for liquid fuels? $$$!

Very economical direct oxidation of methane to methanol is a viable way to convert our abundant supplies of NG to methanol.

(In addition to CO2 physical chemistry, all the evidence points to temperature feedbacks to changing atmospheric energy input [CO2, Solar, other] being zero or negative whereas all the models must use positive feedbacks to produce the doomsday AGW scenarios we are bludgeoned with every day to secure funding for the Bokononistic AGW industry.)

Dec 15, 2011
The simplest way how to solve the problem of energy production, storage and transport is the miniaturization of cold fusion cells. Everyone researcher should explain, why he examines economically and ecologically less viable solution into account of these more advantageous ones.

Dec 15, 2011
deatopmg, you ignore the issue of ocean acidification. And if you object to being bludgeoned with false propaganda, why aren't you railing against fossil fuels and tobacco?

Dec 16, 2011
additional CO2 (doubling, tripling) cannot trap enough additional energy

Any chemists here , i need to make calcium carbide, Al-carbide for ethanol,methanol from Ca & C or Al & C using solar heat, give me the net weight of CaC2 AlC2 output for 100KW solar input/4 hours

Dec 16, 2011
... all the evidence points to temperature feedbacks to changing atmospheric energy input [CO2, Solar, other] being zero or negative.)

You don't read much, do you?

Actual data shows you to be uninformed, as average annual melting days in the Northern hemisphere above 60N has gone up by 8 over water, and 12 to 16 over land in the past decade alone.

You also realize that the "cimate normals" are updated every 10 years, so the insanely hot period of 2001 to 2010 is now 1/3rd of the "normal", yet 2011 was even hotter.


"According to the Arctic Report Card, ice mass loss from Greenland in 2011 was about 430 gigatons-enough ice to raise global sea level by just over 1 millimeter."

Happens to be about on pace for the exponential growth rate of melting theory...

Dec 16, 2011
This technology could be source of carbon in the future, when we implement cold fusion. Currently is just economically infeasible, because it requires additional energy (from carbon) to run. It's much cheaper to produce hydrocarbons from coal directly with its reaction with water at high temperatures.

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