Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Guwahati have developed a unique catalyst that can produce hydrogen gas from wood alcohol, without any carbon dioxide emissions. The development is expected to pave the way for the growth of the hydrogen-methanol economy, enabling a sustainable and eco-friendly source of energy generation.
The research, published in ACS Catalysis, demonstrates that hydrogen can be produced from methyl alcohol, commonly known as wood alcohol, using a catalyst in a process called methanol-reforming. While hydrogen can currently be produced by electrochemically splitting water or through bio-derived chemicals like alcohol, these processes have their limitations.
The new method developed by IIT Guwahati researchers uses a special form of catalyst known as the ‘pincer’ catalyst, which contains a central metal and specific organic ligands, resembling the claws of a crab that hold the metal in place. The catalyst is highly specific and selective, enabling the production of hydrogen from wood alcohol at a much lower temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, compared to conventional methanol-reforming methods, which require temperatures in the range of 300 degrees Celsius.
Furthermore, unlike traditional methods, the new process generates formic acid instead of carbon dioxide, which is a valuable industrial chemical. The production of formic acid makes methanol a promising Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC), contributing to the development of a hydrogen-methanol economy.
Dr Akshai Kumar AS, Associate Professor at the Department of Chemistry, IIT Guwahati, said that the research involves “a smart strategy to design pincer (crab-like) catalysts that selectively produce high-value formic acid and clean-burning hydrogen”. The team has also made the catalyst reusable by loading it onto an inert support.
The research aligns with the global goal of decarbonising the planet by 2050, a significant step towards achieving a sustainable future.
As the world shifts towards finding alternatives to fossil fuels, hydrogen gas remains the best source of clean energy generation. With the development of the new catalyst, hydrogen production can become a much more viable option, creating exciting avenues for the growth of the hydrogen-methanol economy.