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A new catalytic converter produces methanol sustainably

The catalytic converter made with nanotechnology generates the basic chemical methanol from CO2 and hydrogen. According to the researchers involved, the method is close to market readiness.

25 Aug. 2019
Photo: ETH Zurich / Matthias Frei

Scientists from ETH Zurich and the French oil company Total have developed a new c atalytic converter for the production of methanol . This makes it possible to produce the chemical in an environmentally friendly way, namely from CO2 recycled from air and hydrogen obtained in a sustainable way. Methanol is regarded as a basic chemical and serves as the basis for fuels and many other chemical products. In addition, the chemical itself can be used as a fuel, in methanol fuel cells for example. Total intends to trial production of larger volumes using the new method in the coming year.

A few years ago, ETH Zurich had already unveiled a catalytic converter for methanol production based on indium oxide. But the indium oxide was not sufficiently active; such large amounts were required that the process would not have been cost-effective. Now the researchers have added a few palladium atoms to the crystal lattice of the indium oxide using nanotechnology, so that clusters form on its surface. This has made it possible to increase its efficiency significantly.