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December 12, 2007



Taking CO2 to make methanol to burn and produce CO2? This must require more energy in than it produces. And while the energy supplied may be available from power plants while the energy expended will be used in cars (so it is an energy transfer scheme), overall it sounds a bit like perpetual motion - unfeasable and unsustainable.


This process only makes sense as a method to produce liquid fuel (for transportation) using a clean, emissions-free primary energy source.

It is not a way to reduce CO2 emissions. The CO2 would likely come from a coal or natural gas fired power plant. For effective CO2 reduction, one would directly substitute the emissions-free power source for the fossile-fuel power source.

But if oil is expensive, and emissions-free energy is less expensive, and liquid fuel is necessary (as for air transport, for example), and we are willing to accept the CO2 production, then this process makes sense.


How is this news?

1. Methanol synthesis formation has been known for decades

2. The concept was already put forward and shot down due to it's toxicity

3. Why are we even talking about Methanol Fuel Cells, can you imaging how amazingly inefficient that is?

4. Why Methanol and not FT Diesel?

Peter Hunt

Methanol has been opposed vigerously by the oil industry since I was working in the Congress back in the 70's. It's lower BTU than gasoline is greatly offset bu it higher natural octane of 114 making it great for high compression and more efficient engines.

The NOX problem is not there because of its's lower flame temp. Indeed it is a near perfect liquid fuel and has been in Indy engines since the 30's because of this.

It is just that the ever powerful oil industry sees it's invasion of their turf as a " rice bowl " issue. The addition of dimethy ether is just a nice addition.

The seal and gas tank issue are trivial. Ford said $5 to correct them and GM 25 cents per car.

Robert McLeod

Methanol's main problem, aside from the low specific energy (i.e. Joules/kilogram) is that it is a neurotoxin.

And yes, you can't transform CO2 to methanol without a ton of energy inputs, which has to come from somewhere. It shares all of the same problems as hydrogen, except that it's a liquid at room temperature.


Oh Dear,
Yes you can transform CO2 + energy + H2O ---> CH4 + O2... But when you burn CH4 as natural gas.. you get energy + CO2 (again).. So now what do you do?


Yes, producing methanol from CO2 requires energy (it is the opposite of combustion), more than one will get out when burning the methanol. In this electrochemical case it requires electrical energy. This is carbon-neutral because they produce the methanol using carbon-neutral energy: "Both pathways require energy, but that energy could come from a renewable source such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric power..."

Gary, it is not perpetual motion; only if they were claiming to make the methanol from electricity produced by combusting the methanol would it resemble that. They are only claiming to store renewable energy as methanol and then use it as a transportation fuel. You state this yourself. So how does it resemble perpetual motion any more than "taking water to make hydrogen to burn and produce more water"?

donb has it correct: "But if oil is expensive, and emissions-free energy is less expensive, and liquid fuel is necessary (as for air transport, for example), and we are willing to accept the CO2 production, then this process makes sense." Except for the "willing to accept the CO2 production" part; CO2 production from industry and power plants will continue for a long time, in which case this process would recycle it once. Or as the article says, CO2 could be collected from the atmosphere in the long term. Also, you did not mention why this would be preferred over biofuels, although there are many reasons.

Robert McLeod said, "It shares all of the same problems as hydrogen, except that it's a liquid at room temperature." That is exactly hydrogen's largest problem, so what you are saying is that it is produced similarly to hydrogen except it doesn't share any of the storage or distribution problems.

I am working on a similar process, but not to produce methanol. I don't know of a good reason to produce methanol rather than ethanol or gasoline-like hydrocarbons.


Christopher, the 'gasoline-like hydrocarbons' are where it is at - keep us posted on how it goes!

Cyril R.

Actually hydrogen has other severe issues and it's not so easy to say which one is the largest problem:

* Expensive equipment, materials (catalysts). Need cheaper materials, production processes without lowering:

* Efficiency. Burning H in an ICE is currently cheaper but much less efficient. That means more low carbon energy needed to begin with, which just isn't here. As a result, more fossil energy will be used. Distractions such as hydrogen could actually end up exacerbating climate change rather than mitigate it.

* Expensive infrastructure. No one wants to pay for it because it's not commercially viable (the above issues but the storage problem as well). And it won't become comercialized because of a lack of major investment. Plus, transporting H over long distances is inherently wasteful so there's a good chance the infrastructure can never be commercially viable.

The 'methanol economy' tm (not worth trademarking if you ask me!) would at best partially solve the above problems.

Also, this scheme would only be sustainable if the CO2 is taken from the atmosphere or perhaps from biomass burning.

Although a methanol economy could have some advantages, overall there are better alternatives to the methanol economy.

Robert Hargraves

The hydrogen for methanol and dimethyl ether synthesis can be produced with energy from a high temperature gas nuclear reactor, such as the pebble bed reactor. This technology is under develop at Idaho National Laboratory, with further research being conducted in China and South Africa.


Making methanol from CO is no big deal, they have been making syngas since the 30s. Whats a big deal is finding an efficient way to make methanol from CO2 on an industrial scale without dicking around with wussy ass solar power.

Finding some way to use a nuke plant to cook this stuff up would take it out of the hands of the hippies who want to run the world on reprocessed soy beans and put it in the hands of the real men who want to drive something that has some balls on a fuel thats been cooked up in a nuclear reactor.

If they could make this stuff cheap enough it would be awesome, after all they do use methanol in top fuel dragsters and Indy 500 cars. So it seems possible that maybe in the future we will still be able to have cars that haul ass and don't cost a fortune that would be great!

Cyril R.

Nuclear power would certainly make the prospects of large scale methanol fuel production much better.

The idea of combining peaker nukes with methanol production on non-peak times was recently mentioned. That could make low capacity factor nukes economical, allowing them to serve peaking needs, while producing valuable transportation fuels at the same time.


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Air Purifier

They're doing some great stuff at USC with this technology.

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There will always be downsides, but as long as we're moving in the right direction, that's great!

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Very interesting article, glad we're trying to reduce CO2!

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Amazing that we are able to do stuff like this now!

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