Turning Pollution Into Fuel

By: Ivan Demianets

Hi, my name is Ivan. I am 4th year graduate student on Chemistry department at USC, working in the Williams lab. Thanks to the Wrigley Institute’s Sonosky Fellowship this summer, I was able to continue working on our lab’s and my personal main research goal – converting CO2 (carbon dioxide) to CH3OH (methanol). This conversion remains one of the most challenging in the catalytic community, but I believe that in the near future all of us will witness great progress!


Carbon dioxide is a component of greenhouse gas and enters the atmosphere for the most part through burning of fossil fuels and carbon-containing solid waste. Methanol, on the other hand, is a valuable feedstock for organic conversions, petroleum fuel high energy additive, and as a alternative fuel by itself. So obviously, the solution to this problem is appealing not only because of all the benefits from the chemist point of view and potential economic impacts, but also from the environmental side. The whole idea of converting waste that is damaging our planet to fuel that will move us forward keeps me motivated all the time.


Our approach to this problem is called “homogeneous catalysis”. In simple terms, we run a reaction in solution and our catalysts are completely soluble. Since CO2 is a gas and the second reagent in our reaction, hydrogen, is also a gas, it is sometimes necessary to pressurize these gases to the point where they can be partially soluble in a solvent. Often time the pressure reaches 100-150 atm. We use water as a solvent in our reaction, which would be beneficial in the long run due to its price and availability, and definitely it’s not harmful to environment contrary to the majority of organic solvents.

Even though summer is almost over, I keep working on this problem. I hope that results that I’ve obtained as a Sonosky Fellow will help us to achieve our goal!