Scientists Can Make Synthetic Gas Out of Thin Air, Says Study

The process normally requires extremely high operating temperatures, but that may be about to change.
Derya Ozdemir

As the world drifts further away from fossil fuels which have been humanity's main energy source for hundreds of years, converting CO2 into hydrocarbon fuels might be the ideal solution to deal with problems such as the energy crisis and the greenhouse effect.

While many methods have been explored to convert CO2 to organic fuels, there were some limitations. Now, a research by Chinese scientists has one potential solution.

In a process in which the researchers call "efficient, cost-effective, and environmental-friendly," the team used nanoplates that generate power from temperature changes to create synthetic methanol.

If viable, this could provide a clean way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere while generating synthetic fuels.

The paper has been published in Nature Communications.

A new route discovered

Methanol can be converted into gasoline by hydrogenating CO2 out of the air, however, as researchers state, the process requires extremely high operating temperatures -- such as 400-500°F (200–250 °C) -- and high pressures (5–10 MPa), limiting the yield of methanol.

The researchers were able to find a way to use ambient temperature change over a day to generate electricity and use that to combine CO2 from the air with water to make methanol. 

The researchers wrote that pyroelectric nanostructured materials are shown to utilize temperature-variations and to reduce CO2 for methanol. In order to drive pyroelectric catalytic CO2 reduction for methanol at temperatures between 59°F and 158°F (15 °C and 70 °C), which are far better than the previous figures, layered perovskite bismuth tungstate nanoplates were used. They harvested heat energy from temperature-variation. 


Through this technique, the researchers stated that the methanol yield, which was limited before, can be "as high as 55.0 μmol⋅g−1 after experiencing 20 cycles of temperature-variation."

This newly discovered "pyroelectric catalytic CO2 reduction route" might enable scientists to utilize daily temperature-variation in the future of methanol making.