Scientists from the US Department of Energy (DOE) have identified a material that could revolutionize the fight against air pollution and improve the technique of converting carbon dioxide into fuel.
According to the Argonne National Laboratory website, this technique is based on chemical reactions in which the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere is converted into methanol (fuel), through the effect produced by a catalyst.
Thus, the team of researchers from the US Department of Energy has identified that copper tetramer can serve as a catalyst for this type of reaction.
This substance consists of four copper atoms and better accelerates the conversion of carbon dioxide molecules into methanol, requiring less pressure and energy.
The emission of greenhouse gases is one of the most burning problems related to the environment, which is why it is very important to look for "catalysts that are more efficient, especially in terms of saving energy," says Larry Curtiss, the co-author of the study.
From CO2 to fuel
The combination of electricity and carbon dioxide could become a solution for the production of alternative fuels, thanks to a system devised by specialists from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The created mechanism manages to transform carbon dioxide into a fuel suitable for use in vehicles with current technology, using electricity in the process. It would be an interesting outlet until electric propulsion systems are optimized directly.
A group of engineers from the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA seems to have obtained a very effective formula to achieve powering vehicles through electricity, but without requiring the necessary technological changes in an electric car.
The system in question transforms carbon dioxide into liquid fuel, more precisely into isobutanol, through the use of electricity. This eliminates a major drawback: the storage of electrical energy. Today, electricity generated by various methods is still difficult to store efficiently.
The work of the UCLA team has been disseminated through a press release from the aforementioned study center, and has also been developed in an article recently published in the specialized medium Science. On the other hand, the project was developed thanks to a grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program of the US Department of Energy.
Chemical batteries, hydraulic pumping or water division are technologies that have low energy storage density or are even incompatible with the current transportation infrastructure. This advance solves this problem, opening a new path in the field of alternative fuels.
While the storage of electricity through lithium-ion batteries has a low density, making the daily operation of electric vehicles difficult, when stored as liquid fuel the problem would be solved, since the storage density could be very high.
The specialists stressed that the new system would provide the possibility of using electricity as propulsion energy for transportation, without the need to change the current infrastructure. It could therefore be a more economical and practical way of promoting a change in the energy matrix and moving towards a greater use of alternative energies.
The team of engineers and researchers has used a genetically modified microorganism, known as Ralstonia eutropha H16, to produce isobutanol from carbon dioxide, using an electro-bioreactor. In this way, the fuel generated has as its only sources carbon dioxide and electricity.
To explain the process developed by the UCLA experts, it is necessary to remember that photosynthesis is the conversion of light energy into chemical energy, the storage of which occurs in sugar. There are two facets of photosynthesis: a reaction that requires direct sunlight and a reaction in the dark.
The reaction in light converts light energy into chemical energy, while the reaction in the dark converts CO2 into sugar, without requiring direct light to produce the phenomenon. Members of the UCLA research group have been able to separate the reaction in light from the reaction in the dark, without having to perform them at the same time.
In this way, instead of using biological photosynthesis, scientists have used solar panels to convert sunlight into electrical energy and then into an intermediate chemical product, using it to fix the carbon dioxide that allows fuel to be produced. For specialists, this method could be more efficient than the biological system.
According to James Liao, one of those responsible for the research, instead of using hydrogen as an intermediate chemical, which has different problems, formic acid is used. Electricity is used to generate formic acid, and then it provides the binding power of CO2 in bacteria in the dark, thus producing isobutanol. The use of electricity and CO2 bioconversion has a wide variety of applications in chemical products.