Chula professor successfully converts carbon dioxide to methanol

Chula Successfully Converts Carbon Dioxide to Methanol – Reduces Global Warming, and Adds Value to the Circular Economy

An Engineering professor, Chulalongkorn University has successfully converted carbon dioxide to methanol via a thermochemical method that consumes less energy and provides more yield, providing an alternative solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate the circular economy.

“Most of today’s methanol is synthesized from natural gas, which normally releases carbon dioxide during the production process. We, therefore, studied the production of methanol directly from carbon dioxide, which means that this helps to reduce carbon dioxide and also brings the gas back to some use and increases its economic value as well,” Asst. Dr. Pattaraporn says.

Dr Pattaraporn revealed the concept of a sub-research project under the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Conversion to Higher-Valued Products with support from the “Research Cess Fund” (RCF) from the Malaysia-Thai Joint Authority (MTJA) for the research team from the Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Science, the Metal and Materials Research Institute Chulalongkorn University, and other institutions to study different technologies and methods to recover carbon dioxide.

“In general, methanol is synthesized from natural gas by thermochemical method, which produces one ton of methanol and emits about 0.5-1.5 tons of carbon dioxide.” Asst. Prof. Dr. Pattaraporn explained.

“Therefore, we studied how methanol is produced directly from carbon dioxide, which is a promising alternative to the environment and also enhances its economic value.”

Asst. Prof. Dr. Pattaraporn elaborated that methanol can be expanded into a wide range of environmentally friendly green chemical products, such as Dimethyl Ether (DME), used as heating fuel, and Dimethyl Carbonate (DMC), which is used in many industries such as the paint industry, and adhesive industry.  Dimethyl carbonate is used as a binder and is classified as a type of plastic material. It is also mainly used as an electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, which are becoming increasingly in demand.

“Nowadays, the production of dimethyl carbonate mainly uses phosgene, a highly toxic chemical that can cause death or serious health problems even with low concentrations. Therefore, dimethyl carbonate production from methanol and urea, or even from carbon dioxide directly is an interesting production pathway.”

Asst. Prof. Dr. Pattaraporn elaborated more on the fact that the carbon dioxide management approach that amine solutions are generally used to capture carbon dioxide and then separate it by heat until pure carbon dioxide is obtained. After that, the captured carbon dioxide can be further managed in two ways.

For this research, Asst. Dr. Pattaraporn chose the process of thermochemical conversion to convert carbon dioxide in which she used a reactor to generate heat and pressure, then induce a chemical reaction by adding hydrogen to carbon dioxide (CO2 hydrogenation) until it becomes methanol.

However, the thermochemical method demands intensive energy for the reaction and the methanol yield is low. Asst. Prof. Dr. Pattaraporn then finds a way to eliminate this drawback with the use of some alcohol as a catalytic solvent with copper-zinc oxide base catalyst (Cu/ZnO) to increase the methanol yield, and reduce energy consumption in the carbon dioxide conversion process.

Despite the research success, there are still many obstacles, such as the relatively high cost of CO2 capture, energy used in the CO2 conversion process, production costs and sources of hydrogen, market size constraints, and lack of investment incentives. So, if it receives support from the government in terms of policy, cost incentives, taxes, etc, this technology will become more competitive in the future.

“We have a plan to work with the industry sector to push forward the research to provide Thailand with new environmentally friendly products, create economic value for waste, and stimulate a circular economy. This is an important issue to which people today need to pay attention. We must try to save the environmental capital as best as possible to pass it on to the next generation so as to assure them of a better life.” Asst. Prof. Dr. Pattaraporn concluded.