The rising level of carbon dioxide present in our atmosphere have been a long problem among environmental experts. Numerous research and initiatives have been conducted to lessen the greenhouse gas but the problem still persists.
Now, a new research has discovered a way of turning CO2 into useful ethanol. Those involved in the breakthrough admitted that it was only through the stroke of luck that they managed to achieve the result.
Scientists Transformed CO2 To Ethanol With Relative Ease
"We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked," said Adam Rondinone, lead author of the team's study and scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own."
The material mentioned was a catalyst made of copper nanoparticles embedded in spikes of carbon said Phys. The team then used electricity adjusted to 1.2 volts and found that it was enough to alter CO2 suspended in water into ethanol, which is typically used as biofuel additive to gasoline.
The complicated chemical reaction easily reversed the combustion process with an initial conversion rate of around 60 to 70 percent depending on the sample. The researchers were quite surprised at the result given that this type of electrochemical reaction typically creates different chemicals including methane, ethylene, and carbon monoxide.
"We're taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we're pushing that combustion reaction backward with very high selectivity to a useful fuel," said Rondinone. "Ethanol was a surprise - it's extremely difficult to go straight from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a single catalyst."
Researchers Poised To Up-Scale CO2 Conversion To Commercial Heights
The relative ease in which the researchers reversed the combustion process, combined with how cheap their catalyst is, has the scientists believing that this research is clearly ready to be up-scale into commercial levels. It's also applicable in alternative energy storage systems where excess electricity produced by wind turbines or solar plants could readily be transformed into liquid fuel, according to New Atlas.
"A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it's available to make and store as ethanol," said Rondinone. "This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources."
Currently, the researchers are improving their methods with the goal of increasing ethanol production. They're also trying to better their understanding of the full mechanism of selective chemical production of the combined copper and carbon catalyst.