Researchers Convert Carbon Dioxide Into Energy


A team of researchers at Rice University has successfully repurposed a greenhouse gas into an environmentally-friendly pure liquid fuel. The catalytic reactor has been created by Rice University lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Woang along with a team of scientists.

The catalytic reactor utilizes carbon dioxide and creates purified concentrations of formic acid. Formic acid that is being created from the convention techniques is not only expensive but also consumes a lot of energy. However, the system that has been developed by the Rice University researchers can be used for converting carbon dioxide commercially.

Wang, while announcing the research in a press release, says, ‘Formic acid is an energy carrier. It’s a fuel-cell fuel that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide — which you can grab and recycle again. It’s also fundamental in the chemical engineering industry as a feedstock for other chemicals, and a storage material for hydrogen that can hold nearly 1,000 times the energy of the same volume of hydrogen gas, which is difficult to compress. That’s currently a big challenge for hydrogen fuel-cell cars.’

This new system comes as a product of the endeavor undertaken by Wang and the team from Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering aimed at finding useful technologies that can be used for transforming greenhouse gases into products. The team was also able to attain an energy conversion efficiency of almost 42% with this test. The study has been published in Nature Energy.

Once the process was perfected, the team worked in collaboration with Brookhaven National Laboratory for watching the process in progress. The co-author Eli Stavitski, lead beamline scientist at ISS, said, ‘X-ray absorption spectroscopy, a powerful technique available at the Inner Shell Spectroscopy (ISS) beamline at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II, enables us to probe the electronic structure of electrocatalysts in operando — that is, during the actual chemical process. In this work, we followed bismuth’s oxidation states at different potentials and were able to identify the catalyst’s active state during carbon dioxide reduction.’

The lab was able to successfully create formic acid without any break for 100 hours without any degradation of the reactor’s components. Wang said, ‘The big picture is that carbon dioxide reduction is very important for its effect on global warming as well as for green chemical synthesis. 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.’