Metal catalyst is key to clean methanol

March 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

The search for clean energy scored a new victory, as scientists from Stanford, the SLAC  and Denmark developed a nickel-gallium catalyst that produces clean methanol, one of the primary ingredients in plastics and adhesives as well as a fossil fuel alternative. The new chemical agent converts carbon dioxide into methanol with fewer byproducts than the current commodity natural gas, which relies on pressure from hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

Felix Studt, one of the staff scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, summarized their mission to find a non-polluting energy source in a statement:  “We are looking for materials than can make methanol from clean sources, such as sunshine, under low-pressure conditions, while generating low amounts of carbon monoxide.”

The researchers initially looked for the new catalyst that was capable of synthesizing methanol at extremely low pressure using just hydrogen and carbon dioxide. They looked for this catalyst in the computerized database. Chemists came across the new catalyst after comparing a copper-zinc-aluminum compound with thousands of other materials in their database, and in doing so, found the nickel-gallium. A series of tests conducted by the Technical University of Denmark found that nickel-gallium was able to produce methanol efficiently under room pressure. Not only did it produce exorbitant levels of methanol at room pressure, but also sufficiently less carbon monoxide than its predecessors, acting more efficiently at higher temperatures.

The researchers are hoping to go into the next phase with the catalyst, although they believe that a few particles less of nickel will be more advantageous, as pure nickel is notorious for its chemical byproducts.

Reporting their findings in the journal Nature Chemistry, the research effort was to find clean energy alternatives to producing methanol, as well as a catalyst that would not rapidly decompose. Hopefully, some day the nickel-gallium compound the researchers developed will lead to new innovations in alternate energy, among them being solar power and renewable resources that will cut down on greenhouse gas. If successful, it could pave the way to new technologies that improve the environment while being energy efficient, and perhaps the idea of gathering carbon dioxide released from factories to produce energy may not be far off.





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