Solar energy produces methane from CO2 with new catalyst

University of AdelaideImage: University of Adelaide

Australian scientists now have a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into methane gas using solar energy.

The University of Adelaide, in collaboration with the CSIRO, developed the process, which could potentially replace fossil fuels.

It could also lead to lower CO2 emissions from existing carbon-based fuel technologies.

The new catalyst drives the process of combining CO2 with hydrogen to produce methane and water.

Capturing carbon to control CO2 emissions

“Capturing carbon from the air and utilising it for industrial processes is one strategy for controlling CO2 emissions and reducing the need for fossil fuels,” said University of Adelaide researcher Renata Lippi.

“But for this to be economically viable, we need an energy efficient process that utilises CO2 as a carbon source.”

Solar power drives new process for making methane

Solar powered household gas could soon be a reality. Image: Pixabay

Hydrogen is produced efficiently through solar energy. But combining it with CO2 to produce methane is a safer option and allows the use of existing natural gas infrastructure.

“The main sticking point, however, is the catalyst,” Ms Lippi said.

New catalyst produces almost pure methane from CO2

The new catalyst is synthesised using metal-organic frameworks, which allow precise control of the chemical elements.

Other catalysts present issues around poor CO2 conversion, unwanted carbon-monoxide production, catalyst stability and low methane production rates.

This new catalyst produces almost pure methane from CO2. Carbon-monoxide production is minimised and stability is high.

Only a small amount of the catalyst is needed for high production of methane which increases economic viability. The catalyst also operates at mild temperatures and low pressures, making solar thermal energy possible.

“What we’ve produced is a highly active, highly selective and stable catalyst that will run on solar energy,” said project leader Professor Christian Doonan. “This makes carbon neutral fuel from CO2 a viable option.”

New process more efficient than fracking

The process is a more efficient way of harvesting methane than fracking, which adversely affects the environment.

A US study found 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from fracking shale escapes into the atmosphere.

These emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps as much as twice those from traditional capture methods.