Scientists from Stanford University, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Technical University of Denmark have created a new nickel-gallium catalyst that could potentially used to convert hydrogen and carbon dioxide emissions into methanol at low pressure.
In a typical methanol plant, natural gas and water are converted to synthesis gas (syngas), which consists of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The syngas is then converted into methanol in a high-pressure process using a catalyst made of copper-zinc-aluminum. Each year, 65 million tons of methanol are produced for use in the manufacture of paints, polymers, glues and biofuels.
The team has identified a new nickel-gallium catalyst to replace conventional copper-zinc-aluminum in the process. The new catalyst can produce methanol at low-pressure, with fewer side-products. Nickel is relatively abundant, and gallium, although more expensive, is widely used in the electronics industry. The new catalyst could eventually be scaled up for industrial use.
The team is now fine-tuning the process to make methanol synthesis a truly carbon-neutral process. This will still require to overcome many additional hurdles.