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Ground-breaking research finds way to convert CO2 into clean-burning biofuel

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April 19, 2009

IBN scientists convert CO2 into methanol

IBN scientists convert CO2 into methanol

April 20, 2009 Scientists at the Singapore-based Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) have made an unprecedented breakthrough in transforming carbon dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, into methanol, a widely used form of industrial feedstock and clean-burning biofuel. Using "organocatalysts", researchers activated carbon dioxide in a mild and non-toxic process to produce the more useful chemical compound.

The "hot paper" report, published recently in the international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, has been described by reviewers as "very important", an classification only given to 10% of the journal's manuscripts.

This is because carbon dioxide emissions remain a hotly debated global issue, and are widely blamed for causing irreversible climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions produced by human activity are predominately due to the consumption of fossil fuels and, although figures vary, its concentration in the earth’s atmosphere are estimated to have risen by more than 30% since the industrial revolution. 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.

At the IBN, scientists have been able to make carbon dioxide react with a stable organocatalyst called N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC) under mild conditions in dry air. “NHCs have shown tremendous potential for activating and fixing carbon dioxide,"says Siti Nurhanna Riduan, senior lab officer at IBN. "Our work can contribute towards transforming excess carbon dioxide in the environment into useful products, such as methanol.”

A combination of silica and hydrogen – called hydrosilane – is added to the NHC-activated carbon dioxide, which is transformed into methanol through hydrolysis. "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," explains Dr Yugen Zhang, IBN team leader and principal research scientist.

"Our 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. We have now 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.”

Scientific research becomes increasingly important to find solutions that curb global warming. Current research is focusing on green chemistry, which aims to eliminate the use of hazardous substances to prevent environmental pollution. IBN's research aims 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.

“We are innovating effective methods of generating clean energy using green chemistry and nanotechnology," explains Professor Jackie Y. Ying, IBN executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. "In the face of environmental pollution, global warming and increasing demands on diminishing fossil fuel resources, we hope to provide a viable alternative energy option for industry, and effective sequestration and conversion of carbon dioxide.”

Anne Hanrahan

8 Comments

It is inaccurate and misleading to refer to methanol as a "biofuel", particularly when produced as described, which appears to be an entirely chemical method. Methanol is used as an input in the production of certain biofuels, but as far as I know there is no biogenic process for producing it, so it cannot itself be described as a biofuel.

geminian
24th April, 2009 @ 08:21 am PDT

Re: geminian comments:

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methanol:

"

Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in the environment. As a result, there is a small fraction of methanol vapor in the atmosphere. Over the course of several days, atmospheric methanol is oxidized by oxygen with the help of sunlight to carbon dioxide and water.

"

Doesn't that make it a biofuel (and isn't that a biogenic process)?

And doesn't this, as well:

"

Methanol is often called wood alcohol because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood.

"

rhkramer
23rd May, 2009 @ 05:50 pm PDT

Of course they forget to mention how much energy it took to make the H2 in the/and the NHC and combine them!! You don't get something for nothing.

We have the tech for decades to take CO2, water and solar and turn it into any HC we want and electricity. And by the FT process turn woody biomas into any HC too cost effectively. Shell, Syntroleum both have done this but are not selling the tech.

jerryd
24th September, 2009 @ 09:05 am PDT

What is oil? Very old sun energy in liquid form of course. It just is fossilized sun energy stored by plants that did photosynthesis millions of years ago.

What we need to do is use sun energy (it comes at no cost, and for all purposes we get it for nothing) to make it portable, and a liquid form is ideal for powering transportation.

I've even heard about methanol powered laptops not so far ahead!

Facebook User
27th November, 2009 @ 09:58 am PST

Mmmm, but where does the hydrogen come from here? Until we have the electricity to hydrolyse water in abundance this'll have to come from fossil fuels. Bear in mind that you can't create energy, the fuel potential of the output is necessarily equal or less than the energy input required for this process.

You'd also need a massive system of Carbon capture to make this effective.

Luke Surl
26th March, 2010 @ 03:22 am PDT

@facebook user.

There are some who would disagree with you. There is a belief that oil is produced deep in the earth's mantle that has nothing to do with the decomposition of organic material. Do yourself a favor and look up "abiogenic petroleum" in google...and no, don't go reading any of those tree-hugger pages...

Ed
26th March, 2010 @ 02:31 pm PDT

The Process is Innovative. How about practicality and Economics?

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
15th June, 2010 @ 11:11 pm PDT

Can it be considered clean energy?

Facebook User
30th November, 2010 @ 06:09 pm PST
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