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Making methanol from renewable resources

NSF Award:

Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis (CENTC) Phase II Renewal  (University of Washington)

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Natural gas, coal and petroleum all can generate C1 precursors, chemical building blocks that contain a single carbon atom. These precursors include methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methanol. However, a major priority for chemists is replacing these non-renewable fossil fuel feedstocks with sustainable, clean alternatives.

Methanol, in particular, is an attractive target because it is useful as a fuel and is a versatile precursor to many chemical compounds. NSF-funded researchers have developed a process that converts formic acid to methanol using iridium, a hard, brittle transition metal, as a catalyst. This discovery could provide a non-petroleum source for transportation fuel because renewable resources such as biomass or carbon dioxide supply formic acid.

The researchers working on this challenge are part of a network of scientists across North America addressing grand challenges in the synthesis of fuels and chemicals at the Center for Enabling New Technology through Catalysis (CENTC), and NSF Phase II Center for Chemical Innovation. Karen Goldberg of the University of Washington leads CENTC, which focuses on understanding, designing and developing new catalysts to tackle challenging chemical transformations.  Many highly desirable chemical reactions will not occur without a catalyst.

Images (1 of )

  • schematic shows the conversion of formic acid to methanol
  • soluble iridium used as a catalyst helps convert formic acid to methanol
This process converts formic acid into methanol.
Alex J. M. Miller, UNC Chapel Hill
An iridium catalyst helps convert formic acid to methanol.
Alex J. M. Miller, UNC Chapel Hill

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