WASHINGTON - Chinese and Dutch scientists have developed iron-based catalysts that could substantially reduce operating costs and open the door to capturing the large amounts of carbon dioxide that are generated during producing coal to liquid fuels. The study published on other day in the journal Science Advances reported about the iron-based catalysts, which are pure and stable under typical industrial processing conditions.

A key industrial process that converts coal to a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen tend to convert some 30 percent of the carbon monoxide to unwanted carbon dioxide, a byproduct that in this stage is hard to capture and thereby often released in large volumes, consuming a lot of energy without benefit, according to the study. The researchers found that the carbon dioxide release was caused by the fact that the iron-based catalysts were not pure. They managed to produce a pure form of a specific iron carbide that generated almost no carbon dioxide at all. This can reduce the energy needed and the operating costs by roughly 29 million U.S dollars per year for a typical plant. Also, the carbon dioxide that was previously released in this stage can now be removed in the preceding water-gas shift stage, allowing a much easier capture. The conversion of coal to liquid fuels is especially relevant in coal-rich countries that have to import oil for their supply of liquid fuels, according to the corresponding author of the paper Wang Peng from the China’s National Institute of Clean-and-Low-Carbon Energy.