Scientists Discover How to Turn CO2 into Fuel
Sep 07 2019 Read 1251 Times
Given that carbon dioxide (CO2) is such a driver of climate change, removing it from our atmosphere is a top priority for the environmental community. At the same time, the growing global population, coupled with the recent explosive advances in technology and gadgetry, mean that the demand for clean energy sources is higher than ever before.
For those reasons, scientists have been searching for some time for ways to convert CO2 into a fuel source, which would effectively eliminate two birds with one stone. While it is possible to convert CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO2) and then into methane (the principal component of natural gas), the current techniques are expensive and inefficient. However, collaborative new research from China and the USA suggests it may be possible to cut out the middle man and use engineered nanotechnology to find a solution to the conundrum.
Simple but inefficient
Traditional methods of converting CO2 into methane begin with a copper reactor, which can first be used to reduce CO2 into CO. At this point, a separate reactor is introduced into the process which is capable of turning the CO into methane. Given that methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, the end product is now ready to be used as a fuel source.
While the whole process is relatively simple, it does necessitate the use of two separator reactors. This not only makes things cumbersome and expensive, but requires inefficient separation and purification steps, during which a non-negligible percentage of the gas is lost. As a result, scientists have been searching for a way to simplify and optimise the process and this latest study believes it may have found the answer.
Cutting out the middle man
Authored by scientists from universities across China and the USA, the study used experimental models and computational systems to design a process which dispenses with the need to use two reactors and bypasses the introduction of CO altogether. Instead, they treated the copper surface with a nanostructured silver coating, which naturally attracts CO molecules, thus eliminating a laborious step from the procedure.
Those CO2 molecules are then drawn towards the copper components beneath their silver surface, which reduce to methane. Best of all? The new process produces a higher concentration of end product than the previous one, meaning greater efficiencies and fewer gases lost during the process. The new study is not the first of its kind to hit upon this approach, but it is the first to succeed – largely because of a specially designed electrode structure created for this project.
Waste not want not
If the technique can be demonstrated to work on an industrial-size scale, it could represent a massive breakthrough in the future of environmentally-minded energy generation and a great step towards zero-carbon fuel sources replacing fossil fuels. By disposing of waste CO2 and turning it into a usable fuel source in a single step, the catalytic process is a highly promising development.
“We want to supply renewable electricity and take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to something else in one step,” explained Bingjun Xu, a lead author on the study and assistant professor at the University of Delaware. “This is a key contribution to this vision.”
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