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UOP and USC to Partner on Converting CO2 to Methanol or DME for Fuel

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute will partner to develop and commercialize new technology to transform carbon dioxide into cleaner-burning alternative fuels.

USC has developed fundamental chemistry to transform carbon dioxide to methanol or dimethyl ether. The agreement grants UOP exclusive access rights for commercialization of technology and intellectual property developed by USC researchers for production of methanol, dimethyl ether and other chemicals from carbon dioxide. UOP and USC will jointly work on development for a commercially viable process.

The development of this technology could have significant impact on global energy security, and global warming by converting carbon dioxide into useful products and making new clean fuel technologies available to UOP customers worldwide.

—George A. Olah, Nobel Laureate (Chemistry, 1994) and director of Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute

UOP already has commercial technology that uses methanol as a key intermediate in petrochemicals production. We believe methanol can also be a viable option for transportation fuels in the future. The partnership between UOP and USC is aimed at achieving the breakthroughs needed to make this happen.

—Carlos A. Cabrera, UOP President and CEO

There are two basic approaches to the reductive conversion of carbon dioxide (from industrial exhausts and eventually CO2 of the air) to methanol: catalytic hydrogenation or electrochemically in water.

Olah is co-author of Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy (Wiley-VCH, 2006).


  • Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy (George Olah presentation)


Rafael Seidl

You do of course need to produce hydrogen to turn unwanted CO2 into valuable methanol, which can be used directly as a fuel or else as a precursor to other hydrocarbons like DME and polypropylene.

The advantage is that methanol and lightly compressed DME are both liquids and therefore much easier to store and distribute than hydrogen - especially for transportation applications. This is particularly relevant if the hydrogen is produced using renewable electricity from unpredictable sources, e.g. wind or solar.

However, it should be pointed out that methanol - aka wood alcohol - can also be produced directly from woody feedstocks. At this stage, there is perhaps more value in avoiding the use of fossil fuels than there is in the direct reduction of highly dilute atmospheric CO2.



I have no doubt that they are looking at flue gas as the source of CO2 gas.


Methanol was reformed to hydrogen on the early NECAR designs from Daimler -Chrysler. I thought that was a good way to go to get liquid fuels and fuel cells to be viable.

Gus Peterson

Rafael, the catalytic (or other) production of hydrogen may be an energy consuming first step in the production of synthetic liquid hydrocarbons that is unnecessary. Production of methane and/or methanol directly from CO2 and water has been accomplished before by Darby Makel for one (Microchannel Reactors for ISRU Applications). This single step process could avoid the costly hydrogen-handling infrastructure and the second costs associated with a two-part system.

Of course the real question is whether the synthetic hydrocarbon energy storage regime will be competitive with the battery market in the long term, or whether the sole benefit of hydrocarbon storage is climate related.

Prof. Chuck DeVore

I hate people who play on others ignorance. CO2 into methanol and DME letting the energy ignorant person assume some reduction in CO2 emissions? Don't take everybody as stupid. You are stupid to take advantage of the ignorance of others.

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