Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) are working on more sustainable fuels and plastics. To this end, they have developed an innovative catalyst. According to a press release, the catalyst could be a way to replace fossil hydrocarbons with sustainable alternatives. The corresponding study was recently published in the Nature Communications journal.
The new catalyst the research team led by ETH professor Christoph Müller and senior scientist Alexey Fedorov has now developed converts CO2 and methane into synthesis gas much more efficiently than previous catalyst materials. Synthesis gas is an important source material for the chemical industry. It can be further processed into synthetic liquid fuel or base chemicals for the manufacture of plastics.
A novel feature of this catalyst is that it consists of extremely thin metal oxycarbides. Unlike conventional catalysts based on metal carbides, these do not oxidize in the presence of carbon dioxide, explains Christoph Müller, Professor of Energy Science and Engineering in the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering. The activity of the ETH catalyst is therefore not impeded.
As CO2 can be sourced from the atmosphere and only methane comes from fossil resources millions of years old, such synthetic fuels and chemicals can reportedly have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels.
The new reaction catalyst could even be used to replace expensive precious metal catalysts. Although it will be some time before industrial application, the team “hope that our new catalyst will become an attractive option for the production of synthesis gas,” as Fedorov explains.