Issue Date: May 19, 2008
Making Methanol From Carbon Dioxide And Sunlight
One of the sustainability challenges chemists face is finding an energy-efficient method for reducing industrial emissions of carbon dioxide. Trapping CO2 in solutions of amines is one technique already being used, but it requires a significant amount of energy to strip the CO2 from the amine and then compress and pump the CO2 to a sequestration site. Another technique under development is using electrochemical cells to reduce CO2 to value-added chemicals such as methanol. Emily E. Barton, David M. Rampulla, and Andrew B. Bocarsly of Princeton University have now created what appears to be the first such system that requires only visible light—and not an electrical socket—to make CH3OH from CO2 (J. Am. Chem. Soc. DOI: 10.1021/ja0776327). The researchers employed a light-driven gallium phosphide semiconductor electrode to reduce CO2 bubbled through an aqueous solution of pyridine. The catalytic pyridine functions like an amine to bind CO2 molecules and guide them to the electrode surface. The team used a mercury-xenon lamp to power the reaction in the lab, but sunlight should work just as well. Although Bocarsly is optimistic about the process, he says "it is still a large leap from the benchtop to a field application," such as real-time conversion of CO2 to CH3OH at a coal-fired power plant.
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