Scientists from Rutgers University convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into plastic, fabric, resin and other products – making use of what would otherwise generate pollution. It’s always great when someone not only contributes to fixing a problem but also figures out how to benefit from what was previously considered a burden. Those are the kind of solutions we need right now.
Their technique employs a bunch of different electrocatalysts – elements or compounds that speed up electrochemical reactions. Since carbon dioxide is a gas, it’s important that whatever reaction used to create solid products out of Co2 remain quick and effective, otherwise it may not be worth the energy output.
Aside from enzhymes – which are mostly proteins used to catalyze the digestion of raw matter, electrocatalysts are the only other material we know of that can deconstruct water and carbon dioxide into even smaller carbon building blocks ranging from between one to four atoms long with 99% efficiency.
Researchers have come up with two products that are essentially a precursor to plastic and glue (adhesive). They are called methylglyoxal (C3) and 2,3-furandiol (C4). Whats good about methylglyoxal is that it can replace toxic formaldehyde, reducing the amount of compulsory safety protocol required for synthesizing products.
Their technique closely resembles artificial photosynthesis, where the ability of plants to produce energy from light is replicated with advanced chemistry. In this case light is converted in to energy for electrolysis of carbon dioxide in to carbon based products.
Journal Energy & Environmental Science.
“Our breakthrough could lead to the conversion of carbon dioxide into valuable products and raw materials in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries,” said senior author Charles Dismukes, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.
Electrochemical conversion is powered by five catalysts made of nickel and phosphorus, both of which are cheap and abundant. Choosing between these will determine how many carbon atoms compose each molecule or polymer that eventually culminate in a product of some sort. Generally speaking the longer the carbon chain – the more valuable the product.
The team has formed a start up company called RenewCO2.
Once they learn more about the underlying chemical framework they may be able to create a more diverse range of products including diols for the polymer industry and hydrocarbons for renewable fuel. However, for the time being they are focused on commercializing the already patented technology.