Synthetic fuels and chemicals

The activity at SUNCAT related to catalysts for synthetic fuels and chemicals are primarily centered around the conversion of CO and CO2 to methanol and other hydrocarbons. These thermochemical catalytic processes are investigated with the goal to reduce global CO2 emissions while at the same time producing important feedstock chemicals as well as transportation fuels.

Renewable production of chemicals and fuels can be achieved by the conversion of synthesis gas (a mixture of CO and H2), if the synthesis gas is derived from gasification of biomass. Another renewable scenario could be achieved by capturing and converting CO2 from e.g. power plant operations. In the latter case, the H2 needed for CO2 hydrogenation would have to be produced in a renewable way by means of (photo-) electrochemical (link to our H2 work here) routes.

SUNCAT researchers are working on the conversion of CO and CO2 to methanol, alkanes (Fischer-Tropsch) and higher alcohols. The figure illustrates theoretical predictions of the activity of methanol formation from CO2 and H2 for a range of different surfaces. These predictions are based on an analysis where DFT calculations are used to gain an understanding in terms of trends in reactivity of different catalytic materials. This study lead to the identification of Ni-Ga alloys as promising catalysts, a finding that has been verified experimentally.