Carbon Dioxide has the infamous reputation of being a greenhouse gas which accumulates into the atmosphere through human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels for energy, which causes climate change after reaching a certain threshold. But thanks to a new study, scientists can use carbon dioxide as the raw material for the fuel of the future.
The study was recently published in the journal Science by a team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois, Chicago. The scientists found a method to mimic the way plants capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it to sugar to store energy. The new method transforms the gas into energy source just by using sunlight.
According to Larry Curtiss, an author of the study:
“On its own, it is quite difficult to convert carbon dioxide into something else because it’s relatively unreactive.”
This was the main challenge of transforming the gas into fuel, and to do so, the scientists needed to find a catalyst that could make CO2 more predisposed to chemical reactions. Plants use organic catalysts called enzymes, but the researchers decided to use tungsten diselenide. In order to increase the surface area and expose the reactive edges of the compound, they modeled it into flakes with the size of a few nanos.
The combination of the catalyst with carbon dioxide resulted in carbon monoxide, which is still a greenhouse gas but is more chemically reactive than CO2. Not to mention the fact that are already ways to turn it into usable fuel such as methanol.
“In photosynthesis, trees need energy from light, water, and carbon dioxide in order to make their fuel; in our experiment, the ingredients are the same, but the product is different.”
The fact that the scientists managed to produce carbon monoxide with minimal energy loss coupled with the durability of the catalyst used in the reaction, greatly increases the economic and technical feasibility of this type project and its practical applications.
One such practical application of the reaction is the development of an artificial leaf which can capture the carbon dioxide and transform into monoxide only by using solar energy and the catalyst.
Although this new technology is an amazing discovery with the potential to stop any further pollution from carbon dioxide, there are other gases such as methane which are more dangerous than CO2 when it is trapped in the atmosphere.
Image source: Pixabay