What’s the best way to make methanol? The question is more pressing than it sounds. Not only is methanol an important industrial chemical—some 50 million tons are used each year to make plastics and other products—but it could also become the basis of a clean energy economy that actually reduces global warming by turning a potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into fuel.
Now scientists from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have teamed with researchers in Germany to figure out a key part of the most common process for making methanol. This new understanding, reported in Science, is an important step toward improving the process and eventually realizing the goal of capturing carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels and turning it into something you can put in your gas tank.