What to do with CO2 | University of Oxford
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What to do with CO2

Pete Wilton

Could the carbon dioxide belched out by heavy industry be put to good use?

It's a question a number of researchers are looking into including Dermot O'Hare and Andrew Ashley of Oxford University's Department of Chemistry.

They have developed a new process for capturing and storing CO2 and converting it into the useful chemical and fuel methanol. A report of their research is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, and they are now working with Oxford University Innovation to exploit their idea.

Dermot told The Engineer that 'CO2 is a hard nut to crack because its bonds are very strong,' but that 'methanol is quite a nice fundamental building block for organic chemistry.'

He goes on to point out that right now most of the methane we use comes from fossil fuel reserves and that their technique would be win-win in that it would both sequester CO2 and produce a useful chemical and possible alternative fuel source for vehicles, devices or power plants.

The process works by harnessing the power of highly reactive chemical mixtures called Frustrated Lewis Pairs (FLPs).

FLPs are able to rip apart hydrogen molecules and bond with the hydrogen ions. But after this reaction the Oxford team worked out that the Pairs would still be 'frustrated' and reactive enough to bond with CO2. They've now shown that their approach can exclusively produce methanol from CO2 at low temperature and pressure (160 °C at standard pressure).

'Current technology is not selective for methanol and therefore not carbon efficient,' Dermot told us. 'Side products of other carbon capture technologies such as carbon monoxide and methane can also be just as undesirable as CO2.'

As well as not producing these unwanted byproducts the new process doesn’t require expensive and toxic transition metal catalysts and is not poisoned by carbon monoxide - a gas often created during incomplete combustion.

The Oxford team are currently looking to make the process suitable for industry and Isis Innovation has patented the technology and is working with the inventors on a strategy for commercial development.

For more contact Jamie Ferguson: jamie.ferguson@isis.ox.ac.uk

Read more in The Engineer and New Scientist