Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol — a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. With significantly higher activity than other catalysts now in use, the new system could make it easier to get normally unreactive CO2 to participate in these reactions.
“Developing an effective catalyst for synthesizing methanol from CO2 could greatly expand the use of this abundant gas as an economical feedstock,” said Brookhaven chemist Jose Rodriguez, who led the research. “It’s even possible to imagine a future in which such catalysts help capture CO2 emitted from methanol-powered combustion engines and fuel cells, and recycling it to synthesize new fuel,” he said.
The team was particularly interested in exploring a catalyst composed of copper and ceria (cerium-oxide) nanoparticles, sometimes also mixed with titania. The scientists’ previous studies with such metal-oxide nanoparticle catalysts have demonstrated their exceptional reactivity in a variety of reactions.
Chemical fingerprinting was combined with computational modeling to reveal the most probable progression of intermediates as the reaction from CO2 to methanol proceeded. These studies revealed that the metal component of the catalysts alone could not carry out all the chemical steps necessary for the production of methanol. The most effective binding and activation of CO2 occurred at the interfaces between metal and oxide nanoparticles in the cerium-oxide/copper catalytic system.
“The key active sites for the chemical transformations involved atoms from the metal [copper] and oxide [ceria or ceria/titania] phases,” said Jesus Graciani, a chemist from the University of Seville and first author on the paper. The resulting catalyst converts CO2 to methanol more than a thousand times faster than plain copper particles, and almost 90 times faster than a common copper/zinc-oxide catalyst currently in industrial use.
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Research article published in Science here:
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald