Stefano Falcinelli, from the University of Perugia, and his collaborators Andrea Capriccioli and Antonio Laganà are investigating ways to make this process greener by using the carbon dioxide emitted by other industrial processes as an input.
To do this, the team is prototyping a ‘methanation reactor’ called ProGeo transferred to Perugia from PLC System srl near Naples. The machine is the size of a small table and can be modified to test different reaction mechanisms and alternative catalysts, such as plasmas.
Plasmas are electrically charged gases made of electrons and ions and make up to 99% of the matter of the Universe. Falcinelli and his colleagues think they can be a good alternative to nickel catalysts. This is because the CO2-H2 plasmas generated by microwaves induce the formation of CH or CH+, which are the first steps towards a full methane molecule.
The team ran a series of lab experiments to test how the different elements interact and to optimise the use of plasmas as a catalysts. In parallel, Falcinelli and his collaborators ran numerical simulations of the reactions to accurately compute the efficiency of all chemical reaction steps.
For that, they used the ZACROS code and the Grid-Enabled Molecular Simulator (GEMS) – an analytic tool that performs the calculations as High-Throughput Compute jobs, thanks to resources supplied by the compchem virtual organisation.
The findings published in Fuel demonstrate that ProGeo is a promising alternative to traditional methods to produce methane. An obvious advantage is the possibility of recycling a pollutant (carbon dioxide) to produce a high-quality fuel (methane) in a carbon neutral circular economy scheme.
So how far is ProGeo from becoming economically viable? Falcinelli explains that for this to happen “we need to be able to produce the needed H2 reagent at lower cost than the current ones. For this purpose we are working on developing a new type of electrolyser optimising the ratio yields/cost reducing the actual cost of about a factor ten.”