Tag Archives: methanol

The FDA warns public not to use potentially toxic hand sanitizers from Eskbiochem

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning for the public not to buy or use hand sanitizer produced by a particular company as it contains methanol.

Image credits Harvey Boyd.

Methanol, the simplest molecule in the alcohol family, can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested. According to the FDA, certain hygiene products manufactured by Eskbiochem SA de CV in Mexico can potentially contain methanol. As such, the institution warns people not to use them.

“Substantial exposure” to methanol can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or even death, according to the FDA.

The bad alcohol

“Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol should seek immediate treatment, which is critical for a potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning,” the FDA says in a statement.

“Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk, young children who accidentally ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk for methanol poisoning.

The warning extends to nine products of the company, which the FDA found methanol in samples of. These are All-Clean Hand Sanitizer, Esk Biochem Hand Sanitizer, CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer, Lavar 70 Gel Hand Sanitizer, The Good Gel Antibacterial Gel Hand Sanitizer, Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer and three varieties of CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer.

Sampling revealed between 28% to 80% methanol and no ethyl alcohol (the last one is the one in beer or other drinks) in some of these products. “methanol and no ethyl alcohol” the agency adds. Products should contain ethyl alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol), or benzalkonium chloride to be marketed as hand sanitizers.

People who apply the products to their hands are at some risk for methanol poisoning, but the greatest risk comes from ingesting methanol. The FDA notes that children tend to accidentally ingest such products, while others (teens and adults) will sometimes drink them as an alcohol substitute.

If you’ve used these products, seek medical treatment immediately, the FDA advises. Any remaining products should be disposed of as well.

The agency has contacted Eskbiochem to ask them to remove the products from the market but the company has yet to take action, prompting the current public warning.

Methanol is dangerous because our bodies break it down into formic acid, which is toxic to our cells. Around 56 grams of methanol are, on average, the lethal dose for an adult human. Methanol poisoning is most usually associated with unlicensed alcohol production, where methanol isn’t properly removed during the distillation process.

Magnetic field.

Astrochemists can now study stars’ magnetic fields using alcohol

Astrochemists have developed a technique which allows them to measure magnetic fields in space using methanol, the simplest type of alcohol.

Magnetic field.

Image credits Windell Oskay / Flickr.

While you might envision chemistry as something that’s sequestered in a tiny beaker, it’s actually a very powerful research tool for astronomers. Since the 1960’s or so, we’ve constantly been on the lookout for new molecules or compounds floating around in space using radio telescopes, and we’ve found quite a few. By following these molecules, astronomers can get an idea of the movements inside the dense (and otherwise quite opaque) clouds from which stars and planets are born. By understanding how they behave under different conditions (temperature, pressure), they can be used as a benchmark to determine physical parameters and inside these clouds as well.

However, there’s one thing these molecules couldn’t show us up to now: magnetic fields. And that’s actually a bummer, since magnetic fields are a major force involved in shaping massive stars. Now, however, a team of scientists led by Boy Lankhaar at Chalmers University of Technology thinks they’ve solved the puzzle. Their work with methanol (CH₃OH), the simplest alcohol compound (but dont drink this its toxic), gives astrochemists their first tool to investigate magnetic fields of developing massive stars.

Follow the alcohol

“When the biggest and heaviest stars are born, we know that magnetic fields play an important role. But just how magnetic fields affect the process is a subject of debate among researchers,” says Lankhaar. “So we need ways of measuring magnetic fields, and that’s a real challenge. Now, thanks to our new calculations, we finally know how to do it with methanol.”

The idea of using methanol to study magnetic fields is actually a few decades old now. Molecules of the compound are common around many newborn stars, and they shine as natural microwave lasers (masers). The signals “come from the regions where magnetic fields have the most to tell us about how stars form,” adds co-author Wouter Vlemmings. Even better, the inputs of these masers are both strong enough for us to pick up and are emitted at specific frequencies, so we can distinguish them from background noise.

The problem utill now was that we didn’t have any frame of reference to interpret these signals by — we could see the text but didn’t know how to read, so to speak.

Previous attempts to measure the magnetic properties of methanol in a laboratory setting have always met with difficulty and couldn’t be completed. Instead of going the same route, the team decided to start with a theoretical model, knitting it as closely as possible to previous lab measurements and theory. The result is a model that describes the behavior of methanol in a magnetic field based on “the principles of quantum mechanics,” Lankhaar explains.

After checking that their model fits to available experimental data, the team moved on to “extrapolate to conditions we expect in space”. The task proved to be surprisingly challenging, and the team’s two theoretical chemists, Ad van der Avoird and Gerrit Groenenboom from the Radboud University in the Netherlands, had to refine previous work based on new calculations.

“Since methanol is a relatively simple molecule, we thought at first that the project would be easy. Instead, it turned out to be very complicated because we had to compute the properties of methanol in great detail,” says Ad van der Avoird.

Still, all that work paid off. Astronomers and astrochemists now have a reliable tool to study magnetic fields throughout the observable universe. Who knows what it will reveal?

The paper “Characterization of methanol as a magnetic field tracer in star-forming regions” has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Copper clusters could revolutionize CO2 capture and turn it into fuel to boot

The chemical reactions used to make methanol from carbon dioxide rely on a catalyst to speed up the conversion, and scientists identified a new material that could fill this role. With its unique structure, this catalyst can capture and convert carbon dioxide in a way that ultimately saves energy.

The copper tetramer catalyst created by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory may help capture and convert carbon dioxide in a way that ultimately saves energy.
Credit: Image courtesy Larry Curtiss, Argonne National Laboratory

We have covered carbon capture before, so you should be familiar with the underlying idea – capture CO2 and convert it into a easily storable, inert substance. Recent advances gave us new ways to turn this green house gas into useful substances, such as building materials, or use it to produce light or even fuel. One of the products that can be obtained this way, and then be used as fuel is methanol, a pretty simple carbon, oxygen and hydrogen molecule that my chemistry teacher loved to quiz me about so i hate.

Producing methanol this way first requires an efficient method of fishing carbon compounds out of the atmosphere, a process which up to now involved highly-pressurizing gasses over a chemical capture compound made up of copper, aluminium oxide and zinc oxide. A team of researchers working out of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has developed a new compound that they hope will revolutionize the process, as with its unique structure, this catalyst can capture and convert carbon dioxide in a way that ultimately saves energy.

Methanol -also known as wood alcohol- chemical structure.
Image via biologycorner

The compound is called copper tetramer. It’s made up of small clusters of four copper atoms each, spread on a thin film of aluminium oxide. These catalysts work by binding carbon dioxide molecules, and orienting them in a way that facilitates chemical reactions. The structure of the copper tetramer is more efficient as most of it’s binding sites are open, so that it can attach more strongly to CO2 and accelerate the conversion. As it stands, a number of the binding sites in the now-used capture compound are occupied merely in holding the substance together, which limits how many atoms can catch and hold carbon dioxide.

“With our catalyst, there is no inside,” said Stefan Vajda, senior chemist at Argonne and the Institute for Molecular Engineering and co-author on the paper. “All four copper atoms are participating because with only a few of them in the cluster, they are all exposed and able to bind.”

This is why the current method calls for high-pressure environments in which the capture to take place, so that stronger bonds form between the CO2 molecules and the bonding compound.  But compressing gas into a high-pressure mixture takes a lot of energy. The benefit of enhanced binding is that the new catalyst requires lower pressure and less energy to produce the same amount of methanol.

Carbon dioxide emissions are an ongoing environmental problem, and according to the authors, it’s important that research identifies optimal ways to deal with the waste.

“We’re interested in finding new catalytic reactions that will be more efficient than the current catalysts, especially in terms of saving energy,” said Larry Curtiss, an Argonne Distinguished Fellow who co-authored this paper.

Copper tetramers could allow us to capture and convert carbon dioxide on a larger scale — reducing an environmental threat and creating a useful product like methanol that can be transported and burned for fuel. Of course the catalyst still has a long journey ahead from the lab to industry.

Some of the kinks that still have to be ironed out are the compound’s instability and finding an efficient way to manufacture mass quantities of the substance. There is a chance that the tetramers may decompose in an industrial setting, so ensuring long-term durability is a critical step for future research, Curtiss said. And while only nanograms of the material were required for lab studies, a much higher quantity would be needed for industrial purposes.

Meanwhile, the researchers are interested in searching for other catalysts that might even outperform their copper tetramer.

These catalysts can be varied in size, composition and support material, which results in a list of more than 2,000 potential combinations, Vajda said.

But the scientists don’t have to run thousands of different experiments, said Peter Zapol, an Argonne physicist and co-author of this paper. Instead, they will use advanced calculations to make predictions, and then test the catalysts that seem most promising.

“We haven’t yet found a catalyst better than the copper tetramer, but we hope to,” Vajda said. “With global warming becoming a bigger burden, it’s pressing that we keep trying to turn carbon dioxide emissions back into something useful.”

For this research, the team used the Center for Nanoscale Materials as well as beamline 12-ID-C of the Advanced Photon Source, both DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Curtiss said the Advanced Photon Source allowed the scientists to observe ultralow loadings of their small clusters, down to a few nanograms, which was a critical piece of this investigation.

New Catalyst converts CO2 to methanol 90 times faster than current options

Turn that frown upside down – scientists have found a way to take convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into methanol – a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. The catalytic system has a much higher efficiency than currently existing systems and makes it easier to get normally unreactive CO2 to participate in the reaction.

“Developing an effective catalyst for synthesizing methanol from CO2 could greatly expand the use of this abundant gas as an economical feedstock,” said Brookhaven chemist Jose Rodriguez, who led the research.

It’s even possible to envision a future where such catalysts are used to reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gas, by capturing carbon dioxide and recycling it to synthesize new fuel. This of course depends on many factors – the most important one being economic feasibility. Their work shows a good proof of concept, paving the way for future such systems to become a reality.

“Our basic research studies are focused on the science-the discovery of how such catalysts work, and the use of this knowledge to improve their activity and selectivity,” Rodriguez emphasized.

When it comes to catalysts, the problem with CO2 is that it’s not a team player – in other words, it generally has very weak interactions with other catalysts. This team used a catalyst composed of copper and ceria (cerium-oxide) nanoparticles, sometimes also mixed with titania, which ensured a remarkable CO2 reactivity. Their work revealed that the metal component of the catalysts alone could not carry out all the chemical steps to transform the CO2 into methanol, but the oxide nanoparticles worked out very well.

“The key active sites for the chemical transformations involved atoms from the metal [copper] and oxide [ceria or ceria/titania] phases,” said Jesus Graciani, a chemist from the University of Seville and first author on the paper.

The catalyst they developed converts CO2 to methanol more than a thousand times faster than plain copper particles, and almost 90 times faster than a common copper/zinc-oxide catalyst currently in industrial use. The study illustrates how the right approach (in this case, adding oxide nanoparticles) can dramatically improve results.

“It is a very interesting step, and appears to create a new strategy for the design of highly active catalysts for the synthesis of alcohols and related molecules,” said Brookhaven Lab Chemistry Department Chair Alex Harris.

Journal Reference: J. Graciani, K. Mudiyanselage, F. Xu, A. E. Baber, J. Evans, S. D. Senanayake, D. J. Stacchiola, P. Liu, J. Hrbek, J. F. Sanz, J. A. Rodriguez. Highly active copper-ceria and copper-ceria-titania catalysts for methanol synthesis from CO2. Science, 2014; 345 (6196): 546 DOI: 10.1126/science.1253057

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk

Using volcanoes to power liquid fuel production

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk

Volcanoes aren’t generally regarded as being particularly practical for us humans, quite frankly on the contrary. An innovative company from Iceland, however, is suggesting that it may be feasible to produce methanol – a liquid fuel with high heating value that can even work with normal gasoline-powered engines – by refining the CO2 spewed by volcanoes. The energy required to supply this intensive refining process would come from heat created by volcanic rocks nested deep underground.

The company, Carbon Recycling International, has some impressive recycling projects under its belt. For instance, it has a proven system that converts CO2 emissions from both industrial sources like power plants and urban pollution alike into renewable methanol.

“It is possible to produce 30.000 tons of methanol annually and 50.000 tons of sulfuric acid from the pollution from the Hellisheidi power plant and create over 4 billion ISK (around $40 million) in export revenues per year.” a report on the Carbon Recycling International website writes.

Really clever stuff, but volcanoes? These guys aren’t messing about. The fuel (methanol) derived using  volcano power even has a name – vulcanol.

Methanol can be made from a large variety of feedstock and can be blended directly with ethanol.  However, this is the first renewable transport fuel of non-biological origin, which differentiates it from fuel from oil seeds, corn or sugar cane, says founder and CEO KC Tran.  This means you don’t need to displace forests or food crops to grow biofuels.

Sounds really great, but are people prepared for this? When I say prepared, I of course mean are people prepared to pay more for an experimental technology which is extremely expensive compared to current fossil fuel extraction yields. The process is hugely energy intensive as high temperatures are required, along with pure hydrogen (not exactly cheap. geothermal-sourced electricity is said to be used to split water through electrolysis), and a initial significant investment for the plant. CRI is confident, however, that this technology can be deployed – it’s only a matter of how much people are prepared to pay in the end.

Of course, you don’t need a volcano to make vulcanol – the name simply signifies the methanol was made using energy coming from volcanoes. In countries like Germany, where there’s a lot of excess wind energy at night which can’t be fed into the grid and needs to be consumed, such a system could prove to be more feasible than storing the electricity into huge batteries or producing electrolysis hydrogen.