While forecasts indicate that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will continue to grow, American scientists have developed an electrochemical process that converts CO2 into ethanol in an affordable and scalable way for future application in industry.
Despite the potential impact of this advance, the finding has been fortuitous. This is explained by the Department of Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where, for this conversion process to offer results, they have used a carbon, copper and nitrogen catalyst.
We discovered by accident that this material worked, “ explains Adam Rondinone, one of the participants in this work who, according to his account, intended to study ” the first step of the reaction; when we realized that the catalyst carried out the entire reaction by itself ” .
To do this, with the indicated materials, voltage was applied to the catalyst to activate a complicated chemical reaction that would reverse the combustion process. And it worked. In general, this type of reaction results in a multitude of different products in small quantities. However, in this case and with a catalyst based on nanotechnology, ethanol was obtained from the CO2 dissolved in water with a yield of up to 63%.
Ethanol was a surprise, because it is very difficult to go directly from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a simple catalyst, ”says Rondinone. However, its innovation is not simple and presents important novelties. The first resides in its copper and carbon-based nanoscale structure. Thanks to it, it has been possible to do without the use of metals such as platinum, which limit the economic viability of many catalysts.
With the use of common materials, but organized with nanotechnology, we discovered how to limit the reactions and obtain the only thing we wanted ”; ethanol. Along with the use of low-cost materials, another of the strengths of this process is that it operates at room temperature. Because of these advantages, the researchers consider that the advance could be easily scalable for use in industrial applications. In addition, from the OAK Ridge they emphasize that this system can be used to store excess electricity generated from the sun or the wind. “It could contribute to balancing a network fed by intermittent renewable sources” , they highlight.
The authors of the finding, who have just made their results public in Chemistry Select, will continue working on this process to improve the rate of ethanol production and learn more about the properties and behavior of the catalyst. In the final results of your approach, a way can be opened to contain carbon dioxide emissions and, in addition, to take advantage of it for other uses.