Technology 3 min read

Green Invention Turns Carbon Dioxide Into Pure Liquid Fuel

Scientists at Rice University developed a catalytic reactor that can be used to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel and other high-value products.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Scientists at Rice University have found a new, environmentally friendly way to repurpose carbon dioxide. It involves using an electrolyzer that uses renewable electricity to convert the greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel.

Haotian Wang, a researcher at Rice University, developed a catalytic reactor that uses carbon dioxide as its feedstock. And his latest prototype produces highly purified and high concentrations of formic acid.

Since other devices can produce formic acid from carbon dioxide, why is this invention different?

For one, the formic acid produced through these traditional devices is costly and energy-intensive to purify. Not only is the new method efficient, but it delivers a pure formic acid solution which could inspire other commercial carbon dioxide conversion technologies.

Formic acid is an energy carrier. It’s a fuel cell which produces carbon dioxide while generating electricity. Using the catalytic reactor, it becomes possible to grab the greenhouse gas and recycle it again.

Aside from being a feedstock for other chemicals, formic acid is also a storage material for hydrogen. It can hold as much as 1,000 times the energy of the same volume of hydrogen gas, which is difficult to compress.

According to chemical and biomolecular engineer, Wang, that’s currently a big challenge for hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

The researchers detailed how the method works in Nature Energy.

Using Catalytic Reactor to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Liquid Fuel

To create the new device, the researchers had first to develop a robust, two-dimensional bismuth catalyst. They also needed a polymer-based solid electrolyte to eliminate the need for salt as part of the reaction.

Next, Wang and his team coated the solid electrolyte with an amino-functional group to conduct negative ions, or a sulfonic acid ligand to perform the positive charge.

In a statement to the press, Wang said:

“Usually people reduce carbon dioxide in a traditional liquid electrolyte like salty water. You want the electricity to be conducted, but pure water electrolyte is too resistant. So, you need to add salts like sodium chloride or potassium bicarbonate so that ions can move freely in the water.”

The problem with generation formic acid this way is, it mixes with the salt. Since most applications require a pure product, scientists often have to go through a cost and energy-intensive process of removing the salt from the formic acid.

By using the solid polymer-based electrolyte, the researchers had effectively eliminated the need for salt. As a result, they generated formic acid continuously for 100 hours, with negligible degradation of the reactor’s components.

Wang noted:

“The big picture is that carbon dioxide reduction is significant for its effect on global warming as well as for green chemical synthesis.”

Although the researchers designed the catalyst reactor to produce formic acid, Wang suggested that it can be retooled to produce other high-value products. These include ethanol, acetic acid, or propanol fuels.

If the electricity comes from renewable sources like the sun or wind, we can create a loop that turns carbon dioxide into something important without emitting more of it,” the researcher concluded.

Read More: Black Gold Material Can Turn Carbon Emissions To Fuel

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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