Syngas economy for rapid decarbonization of fuels and chemicals

To devise a sustainable energy portfolio under the planetary and practicality constraints, we must consider a hybrid model of renewable-energy-powered low-carbon fossil fuel production as a transitional energy technology. Such untethered demand would also provide the natural growth and gradual implementation flexibility that the renewables industry needs to build to scale. At the heart of a potential transitional energy technology platform is synthesis gas (syngas), a mixture of gaseous carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Syngas is currently the primary source of hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles and has been the core building block in the chemicals industry for liquids, particularly alcohols, olefins, and low molecular weight fuels. We have recently developed a Ni-Mo-MgO nanocatalyst that facilitates syngas production from the dry reforming of methane without coking or sintering, even after 35 days of continuous operation. Since it is known that switching syngas production from steam reforming to dry reforming could provide gigatons of CO2 avoidance without significantly altering our lifestyle, this emissions relief could provide the necessary time for a successful implementation of future energy technologies. In such a syngas economy, chemicals and transition fuels would be made using syngas from dry reforming of hydrocarbons. An estimated 15-50% reduction in carbon emissions is possible without any change to the infrastructure. Further reductions would be introduced if syngas was produced from a range of sources, such as biomass, waste, plastics, or paper, and the direct conversion of syngas to more chemicals was feasible.


Cafer T. Yavuz

Professor of Chemical Science at KAUST