Friday, January 29, 2010

Iceland, the Next Saudi Arabia? Nobel Prize Winner Develops Process to Produce Fuel and Plastics Solely from Water and Carbon Dioxide from Geothermal Sources Using Nanomaterials

Iceland could be the Saudi Arabia of the 22nd century.  Apparently, if you know what you are doing, all that is needed to replace the oil industry is water, carbon dioxide, heat, pressure and the right nanocatalysts.

Carbon neutral methanol and green plastic products may be produced exclusively from carbon dioxide and steam generated by a geothermal energy source say University of Southern California Chemistry Professors George A. Olah (Beverly Hills, CA)  and  G.K. Surya Prakash (Hacienda Heights, CA) in U.S. Patent Application 20100022671.   Olah was the 1994 Nobel Prize for Chemistry recipient "for his contribution to carbocation chemistry."

Their method for producing methanol from a geothermal energy source includes (1) obtaining carbon dioxide and water or steam from the geothermal source; (2) generating hydrogen from the steam, isolating the carbon dioxide accompanying the water or steam source; and (3) converting the isolated carbon dioxide and generated hydrogen to methanol. The isolated carbon dioxide and generated hydrogen are obtained solely from the geothermal source and the geothermal source provides energy necessary for the production of methanol.

The carbon dioxide from a geothermal energy source can be isolated by sorption on suitable absorbent material. The absorbent material is a polyamino containing polymer deposited on a nano-structured high surface area support.  The polyamino containing polymer is a polyethyleneimine and the support is fused silica or alumina.

The hydrogen is generated by electrolysis or catalytic or thermal cleavage.  The methanol is produced exclusively from the isolated carbon dioxide and hydrogen generated from the water or steam  from the geothermal source also utilizes the needed energy generated by the same geothermal energy source.

The method reduces the carbon dioxide with hydrogen under conditions sufficient to form methanol. The methanol can be further processed to produce dimethyl ether.  The dimethyl ether can be reacted in the presence of a bifunctional acidic-basic or zeolytic catalyst to form ethylene or propylene. The ethylene or propylene can be again be reacted  to produce synthetic hydrocarbons, derived chemicals, polymers and other products derived from them.

Dimethyl ether (DME) is the organic compound with the formula CH3OCH3. The simplest ether, it is a colourless gas that is a useful precursor to other organic compounds and an aerosol propellant. Dimethyl ether is also promising as a clean-burning hydrocarbon fuel.

Due to the special geological location of Iceland, the high concentration of volcanoes in the area are often an advantage in the generation of geothermal energy, the heating and production of electricity. During winter, pavements near these areas (such as Reykjavík and Akureyri) are heated up.

Five major geothermal power plants exist in Iceland, which produce approximately 24% (2008) of the nation's energy. In addition, geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland.

In the early 1960s Olah and co-workers discovered that stable carbocations could be prepared through the use of a new type of extremely acid compounds - far stronger than "classical" acids like sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid etc. These new acids - some of which were first described by the Canadian inorganic chemist, R. J. Gillespie - became generally known as "superacids". A superacid can for example be prepared from hydrogen fluoride (HF) and antimony pentafluoride (SbF5).

Olah's discovery completely transformed the scientific study of the elusive carbocations. Since the original discovery a large number of carbocations have been prepared and their properties studied in great detail. Olah has also shown how basic knowledge on superacids and carbocations can be applied to the facile synthesis of new and important organic compounds and that a number of small organic molecules, with widespread use as starting material in many large scale synthesis, can be produced in a simple and inexpensive way using superacids as catalysts.

His work has resulted in new methods for the conversion of straight chain hydrocarbons (when used in combustion engines these have very low octane number and they are also difficult to degrade biologically) into branched hydrocarbons that have high octane numbers and are more easily biodegradable.

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