Zimbabwean scientist turns carbon dioxide into methanol

News Excerpt:

According to the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), scientists in Zimbabwe are producing methanol and other energy materials using carbon dioxide from industrial activities.

Key Points:

  • Gift Mehlana, a professor from Midlands State University, Zimbabwe is leading a research group that focuses on the development of novel porous materials for capturing waste carbon dioxide emitted from factories
    • He has a background in converting carbon dioxide into methanol, which is a clean burning fuel.
  • The primary objective of the research is to utilise carbon dioxide that emanates from the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy.
    • To achieve this, research has focused on developing new materials capable of capturing and converting carbon dioxide from various points of emissions to produce energy materials such formic acid and methanol.
  • Formic acid is regarded as a convenient way of storing hydrogen. Formate is posing as an excellent hydrogen carrier in fuel cells, making it a highly exploitable chemical on the hydrogen energy storage front. 
    • Formate has an energy content that is at least five times greater than commercially available lithium-ion batteries
    • Formate can also be used in various chemical industries such pharmaceutical, food and chemical manufacturing to make products that are useful in people’s daily lives.
  • Methanol is important for emerging economies. It can be blended with gasoline to improve air quality, used to make other clean-burning fuels and can be easily integrated with the fuel distribution infrastructure available on the African continent.

About the research:

  • To date, the researcher stated that they have prepared a wide range of materials known as metal-organic frameworks in their laboratory. The materials are made up of metal ions or metal clusters connected together by organic linkers.
    • Materials showed interesting properties such as chemical stability and were good candidates for housing precious metal catalysts such as platinum, rhodium and iridium responsible for conversion of carbon dioxide to formic acid.
    • According to the scientist, the results of the studies are encouraging to design materials which are highly selective towards carbon dioxide for use in capturing the waste gas from Industrial emissions.
  • Zimbabwe has a number of companies that are involved in burning coal to produce energy and cement in industry and they produce a lot of the greenhouse gas from their activities.
  • According to the researcher, the last phase of the project would be designing the prototypes and engaging the local industries to implement the developed technologies.
    • If this venture is successful, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions will be significantly reduced in Zimbabwe. 
      • This will help the country fight climate change and global warming, while also producing energy materials that are vital for the 21th century as we move towards a circular and green economy.

Other important points of the research:

  • The initiative seeks to help with developmental problems faced by populations living in sub-Saharan Africa by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power industries and cement production.
  • It has got funding support from the AAS mentorship programme and the Royal Society which enabled it to collaborate with scientists in other countries.  

Global scenario:

  • Globally, the world pumps nearly 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil every year to achieve energy demands.


Making energy materials like formic acid, methanol from carbon dioxide released from factories can be important for emerging economies. Hence, this research will be important to utilise carbon dioxide that emanates from the burning of fossil fuels to provide energy and achieve a sustainable future.

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