New catalyst paves way for carbon neutral fuel

Carbon dioxide
Ball-and-stick model of carbon dioxide. Credit: Wikipedia

Australian scientists have paved the way for carbon neutral fuel with the development of a new efficient catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air into synthetic natural gas in a 'clean' process using solar energy.

Undertaken by University of Adelaide in collaboration with CSIRO, the research could make viable a process that has enormous potential to replace and continue to use existing carbon-based technologies without increasing atmospheric CO2.

The catalyst the researchers have developed effectively drives the process of combining CO2 with hydrogen to produce methane (the main component of the fossil fuel natural gas) and water. Currently, natural gas is one of the main fuels used for industrial activities.

"Capturing carbon from the air and utilising it for industrial processes is one strategy for controlling CO2 emissions and reducing the need for fossil fuels," says University of Adelaide PhD candidate Renata Lippi, first author of the research published online ahead of print in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

"But for this to be economically viable, we need an efficient process that utilises CO2 as a carbon source.

"Research has shown that the hydrogen can be produced efficiently with . But combining the hydrogen with CO2 to produce methane is a safer option than using hydrogen directly as an energy source and allows the use of existing infrastructure.

"The main sticking point, however, is the catalyst – a compound needed to drive the reaction because CO2 is usually a very inert or unreactive chemical."

The catalyst was synthesised using porous crystals called metal-organic frameworks which allow precise spatial control of the chemical elements.

"The catalyst discovery process involved the synthesis and screening of more than one hundred materials. With the help of CSIRO's rapid catalyst testing facility we were able to test all of them quickly allowing the discovery to be made in a much shorter period of time," said Dr Danielle Kennedy, AIM Future Science Platform Director with CSIRO. "We hope to continue collaborating with the University of Adelaide to allow renewable energy and hydrogen to be applied to chemical manufacturing by Australian industry."

With other catalysts there have been issues around poor CO2 conversion, unwanted carbon-monoxide production, catalyst stability, low methane production rates and high reaction temperatures.

This new catalyst efficiently produces almost pure methane from CO2. Carbon-monoxide production has been minimised and stability is high under both continuous reaction for several days and after shutdown and exposure to air. Importantly, only a small amount of the catalyst is needed for high production of methane which increases economic viability. The catalyst also operates at mild temperatures and low pressures, making solar thermal energy possible.

"What we've produced is a highly active, highly selective (producing almost pure methane without side products) and stable that will run on solar energy," says project leader Professor Christian Doonan, Director of the University's Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials. "This makes carbon neutral fuel from CO2 a viable option."

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More information: R. Lippi et al. Highly active catalyst for COmethanation derived from a metal organic framework template, J. Mater. Chem. A (2017). DOI: 10.1039/C7TA00958E
Journal information: Journal of Materials Chemistry A

Citation: New catalyst paves way for carbon neutral fuel (2017, June 21) retrieved 13 October 2019 from
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Jun 21, 2017
In essence, the concentrated high energy content of burning natural gas (CH4 + O2) creates the byproducts CO2, and H20. The aggregation of low concentration solar energy into a high energy source and this catalyst convert the CO2 and H2O back to CH4 + O2. The engineering of this is now required for it to be useful.

One should note that CH4 from coal combustion CO2 stack gas will also be very possible. In that case a non-virtuous cycle of C + O2 ==> CO2; (CO2 + 2H2O)/Catalyst ==> CH4 + 2O2. This is non-virtuous because CH4 becomes a continuously building gaseous result and CH4 is 30 times more potent as a hot house gas than CO2, should it get into the air. However, CH4 converts to gasoline via a process from the 1980s, and liquid fuels are at the center of today's energy technologies. To close the cycle, CH4 in excess (from coal burning) should be converted to CH3OH (methanol) and stored in abandoned oil wells.

Jun 21, 2017
CO2 + H2O to CH4 + O2 using sunlight

see exciting application at:

Jun 21, 2017
Supporting natural gas to gasoline

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