Share on

About the author

Jonathan de Roo
Jonathan de Roo

CO2 is probably the chemical which is most hated, by people and companies alike. The global temperature rise is unsettling, and industries are forced to cut down on CO2 emissions by legislation. The recent summit in Paris and the paradigm shifting consensus that was reached there, only emphasises how much CO2 is dreaded. However, chemists – being a special race of people – are always willing to rock the boat and think in reverse: can we do something useful with waste…

…In this case CO2?

Organic chemists have realised that this cheap C1 building block – CO2 contains one carbon atom – can be used to build larger molecules and valuable products. However, CO2 is reluctant and needs to be persuaded with a suitable partner. Only then will it bind itself to another molecule. Hydrogen gas, H2, is such a partner, and some people call it “love at  second sight”. [1] It was not love at first sight since chemists initially failed to couple the two partners. But recently, new materials have been  discovered that can couple H2 and CO2 together in organic molecules.

Although this is all very interesting, organic synthesis does not need the vast amounts of CO2 that we are currently emitting by burning fossil fuels in our hunger for energy and transportation. A good alternative to fossil fuels would be H2. However, it is highly flammable, has caused rather big disasters in the past and is very difficult to contain since it is the smallest molecule ever, able to escape through the tiniest hole. In any case, nobody would like to drive around with a potential bomb in their fuel tank (which would be the case for H2). No, it would be much more comfortable if we could make a fuel with H2 that is liquid and thus easy to transport. So imagine the following vision of  the future.

We will use electricity from wind or solar energy to produce hydrogen gas from water. (read this blog post: ) That H2, we will combine with CO2 to produce methanol.[2] Methanol is a liquid alcohol that can be used as fuel. If we organise ourselves in such a way, CO2 is not just a waste or end product but a part of a cycle.

In conclusion, don’t just despise CO2, use it cleverly!


[1 ]Jürgen Klankermayer and Walter Leitner, Love at second sight for CO2 and H2 in organic synthesis. Science 2015, 350 (6261), 629-630.

[2] Jesús Graciani, Kumudu Mudiyanselage, Fang Xu, Ashleigh E. Baber, Jaime Evans, Sanjaya D. Senanayake, Darío J. Stacchiola, Ping Liu, Jan Hrbek, Javier Fernández Sanz, and José A.