Posted in | Pollution | Sustainability

New Catalyst Facilitates Development of Carbon Neutral Fuel

The creation of a new efficient catalyst that takes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and converts it into synthetic natural gas in a ‘clean’ process using solar energy, has now paved the way for carbon neutral fuel, thanks to a team of Australian Researchers.  

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Carried out by University of Adelaide in partnership with CSIRO, the research could make feasible a process that has huge potential to replace fossil fuels and continue to use current carbon-based fuel technologies without adding to atmospheric CO2.

The Adelaide team’s catalyst effectively drives the process of integrating CO2 with hydrogen to create methane (the key component of the fossil fuel natural gas) and water. Presently, natural gas is one of the chief fuels used for industrial activities.

Capturing carbon from the air and utilizing it for industrial processes is one strategy for controlling CO2 emissions and reducing the need for fossil fuels

Renata Lippi, PhD candidate, University of Adelaide and First Author of the Research published online

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

“Research has shown that the hydrogen can be produced efficiently with solar energy. 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 natural gas 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 synthesized using porous crystals known as 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. 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.

Dr. Danielle Kennedy, AIM Future Science Platform Director with CSIRO

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

This new catalyst efficiently creates almost pure methane from CO2. Carbon-monoxide production has been reduced and stability is high under both continuous reaction for a number of days and after shutdown and exposure to air. Notably, only a small quantity of the catalyst is required for high production of methane which boosts economic viability. The catalyst also functions at low pressures and mild temperatures, making solar thermal energy possible.

What we’ve produced is a highly active, highly selective (producing almost pure methane without side products) and stable catalyst that will run on solar energy. This makes carbon neutral fuel from CO2 a viable option.

Professor Christian Doonan, Project Leader and Director of the University’s Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials

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