Beyond the chemistry, the Freiburg team’s scheme is as about creating a kind of energy cycle, harvesting CO2 from power plants.
“The CO2 will be filtered out of the waste gas stream of a combined heat and power plant and used to produce methanol,” the team said. “When methanol is burned in a motor, CO2 is released again. If the same molecule were used twice, it would theoretically be possible to use 50 percent less CO2 to create the same amount of energy.”
The researchers figure that capturing and using 10 percent of Germany’s CO2 emissions would cover the country’s yearly fuel needs.
It sounds great, but the question remains how efficient this method of producing methanol really is (maybe this will come out in scientific papers from the team). Is it a better bet than using methane, as suggested by a team at Oxford? Then again, if the German’s methanol production process — including the derivation of hydrogen — can be powered by renewables, including wind power generated at night when it’s not needed on the grid, they might be in business. The Freiburg team also sees the potential for methanol as a means of essentially storing the volatile hydrogen, using it in fuel cells. Indeed, just last year the U.S. Department of Energy said it was partnering with a California company to test the market capabilities of methanol fuel cells.
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