A new catalyst that has the potential to directly produce methanol from biomass is reported in Nature Communications this week. Methanol has been put forward as a cleaner transportation fuel than petrol, but it is usually produced from natural gas, a finite natural resource. Biomass, on the other hand, is renewable and the authors suggest that alternative sources of methanol could lead to more widespread use.
Edman Tsang and colleagues develop a palladium/iron oxide catalyst that produces methanol directly from ethylene glycol, which can be derived from biomass. The catalyst relies on the presence of extremely small palladium/iron clusters for its activity.
Typically, methanol is produced from natural gas via syn-gas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen that is typically produced from natural gas. The new catalyst may aid the development of alternatives to this traditional route, but further studies are required to optimize productivity, and evaluate catalyst stability under industrially relevant conditions.