Producing methanol fuel out of thin air becomes possible

A study that could have major implications on the future of methanol as a fuel has found a cheap way of creating methanol out of thin air.

Scientists at Cardiff University in the UK and colleagues have found a way to produce methanol using oxygen in the air – an advancement that may lead to cleaner, greener industrial processes worldwide. The team found they can produce methanol through simple catalysis that allows methanol production at low temperatures using oxygen and hydrogen peroxide.

Currently methanol is produced using expensive and energy-intensive processes known as ‘steam reforming’ and ‘methanol synthesis’ that involves breaking down natural gas at high temperatures into hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide.

“The quest to find a more efficient way of producing methanol is a hundred years old. Our process uses oxygen – effectively a ‘free’ product in the air around us – and combines it with hydrogen peroxide at mild temperatures which require less energy,” said Graham Hutchings, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute.

“We have already shown that gold nanoparticles supported by titanium oxide could convert methane to methanol, but we simplified the chemistry further and took away the titanium oxide powder,” said Hutchings.

“Commercialisation will take time, but our science has major implications for the preservation of natural gas reserves as fossil fuel stocks dwindle across the world,” he said.

“At present global natural gas production is about 2.4 billion tonnes per annum and four per cent of this is flared into the atmosphere – roughly 100 million tonnes,” he said.

“Our approach of using natural gas could use this “waste” gas saving CO2 emissions,” he added.

The findings are published in the journal Science.