A team from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign published their study and research to find a new process to recycle atmospheric carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This process converts greenhouse gases into fuels with more efficiency. Professor Andrew Gewirth and graduate student Xinyi Chen published their research in the Natural Catalysis journal. The study describes a method that involves and introduces an electrochemical reaction. This electrochemical reaction enhances the hydrocarbons’ capability, along with the polymers, to ensure improvisation in carbon dioxide gas to ethylene conversion. The method has shown very high efficiency over previous attempts.
How scientists made the method efficient?
Scientists tried to find the metal that has high selectivity and affinity towards carbon that gets converted to ethylene as a fuel. During the research, they found that copper is the perfect candidate. Hence, they formed a copper electrode that can ultimately produce ethylene. The team also combined copper ions in the solution (electrolyte) with the polymers, thus, entraining the polymer into the copper. This combination has less probability of breaking down and degenerate due to its stability. There is a stable formation of intermediates that results in the formation of ethylene, thus, paving the way for carbon dioxide recycling into fuels.
What were the previous methods?
To perform the recycling of carbon dioxide gas and transform it into other fuels, in the previous methods, to direct carbon dioxide reduction reaction. The process used metal other than copper and formed a molecular coating on the electrode. But, these molecular coatings were not so stable and got degenerated and destabilized during the intermediate process. The degeneration also led to the fall away of the molecular layer from the electrodes. Hence, there was no stable formation of fuels in high or expected volumes. So, the efficiency of the method was very low. A lot depends on this metallic coating that can sustain till the end of the reaction and remain stuck to the electrodes. Hence, carbon dioxide recycling into fuels was not so feasible with the previous methods.
Why is the method so efficient?
The introduction of copper electrodes brings such an amount of stability that the conversion of carbon dioxide to ethylene is 87%. This conversion rate is much higher than that of 80% obtained from the previous methods. Hence, the use of copper as an electrode has made significant changes. Not only does it help to stabilize the intermediates, but it also enhances the overall production of fuels, thus, enabling better carbon dioxide recycling into fuels. This method holds enormous potential to adopt as a pilot project to check its scalability for more usage. Once the results from the pilot project are out, the process can go for mass-scale use and production.
Benefits & Way Forward
The process can deliver multi-faceted benefits. It can completely turn the tenets of greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere. Fuels like ethylene and ethanol reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulfur, volatile organic compounds from automobiles, and other production sources. Hence, there is a lesser entry of harmful gases into our environment. More is the production of the fuels, and the cleaner is the ecology. The process has opened many gates to find and adopt at the earliest to ensure carbon dioxide recycling into fuels. Any reduction of carbon dioxide in the current scenario will let us give a more sustainable world.