Monday, February 12, 2007

Promising methanol electrolysis

The Chinese seem to be moving in a big way towards a Methanol Economy. The advantages for the Chinese are pretty clear: Methanol can be synthesized quickly and cheaply from coal, which China has in abundance. Over the long term, one could phase out coal production and produce methanol from dedicated crops and wastes.

So I'm not surprised to see this kind of work come out of China:
Water electrolysis for large scale hydrogen production is unattractive because of its high electricity consumption. But hydrogen produced by electrolysis of methanol as proposed by Prof. Shen, from Advanced Energy Materials Research laboratory of Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China uses only 1/3 electricity consumption of water electrolysis.
One caveat seems to be that methanol production also requires a hydrogen source, which in conventional production comes from the fossil-fuel input. It could also (in theory) come from a gasified biomass source.

Efficient methanol synthesis and electrolysis could make fuel cells more useful than I've given them credit for recently. I've been betting on batteries (in electric cars and plug-in hybrids) the win the market first, but the neat thing is that the plug-in hybrid concept isn't an either-or: so long as grid electricity is cheaper, per-mile, than a liquid fuel it's going to make most sense for a consumer to do their day-to-day driving with a plug handy. You can have a plug-in fuel cell hybrid (indeed, this makes at least as much sense as an internal-combustion/battery hybrid.)


matt said...

The problem with this is that methanol is a more convenient fuel than hydrogen, so it isn't clear why you would bother wasting electricity on the conversion if you already had the methanol.

No doubt there is some situation in which it would be useful, but offhand it is hard to see what that would be.

john said...

Eventually, a fuel cell may (ambiguity deliberate) be more profitable to run off of hydrogen catalyzed from methanol than from methanol directly.

Aside from that, you're right, it would be more sensible to run methanol directly.

Anonymous said...

um, this kind of work came out of nasa first. in 2001.