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Synthesis

Bimetal Catalyst Makes Methanol From Low-Pressure Carbon Dioxide

Computational studies plus experiments turn up catalytically active nickel-gallium alloys for converting carbon dioxide to methanol

by Mitch Jacoby
March 3, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 9

If methanol could be made where and when it’s needed by reacting CO2 with hydrogen obtained from sun-driven water splitting, the simple alcohol could serve as a low-cost sustainable fuel and chemical feedstock. That possibility may be closer to reality by the discovery of a nickel-gallium methanol synthesis catalyst that works well under mild conditions (Nat. Chem. 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1873). Methanol is currently made in large industrial facilities from a mixture of CO, CO2, and petroleum-derived hydrogen. The commercial process is typically driven by a Cu/ZnO catalyst at high pressure. Altering the conditions reduces the methanol yield and can lead to a high concentration of unwanted CO. By using a computational technique, a team led by Jens K. Nørskov of Stanford University and Ib Chorkendorff of the Technical University of Denmark identified a family of Ni-Ga alloys with promising catalytic properties. They synthesized and tested several of the materials and report that Ni5Ga3 converts CO2 and hydrogen to methanol at atmospheric pressure as well as or better than Cu/ZnO and produces lower levels of CO.

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