Researchers Turning Emissions Into Fuel
October 7, 2011

Researchers Turning Emissions Into Fuel

Researchers have produced a way to simultaneously reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and produce fuel.

University of Illinois researchers said they have teamed up with startup company Dioxide Materials to produce a new method that improves artificial photosynthesis.

In artificial photosynthesis, an electrochemical cell uses energy collected by solar panels or wind turbines to convert CO2 to simple carbon fuels like formic aside or methanol.

Turning carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide has been holding back artificial photosynthesis from working because it is too energy intensive, according to the researchers.

The team used iconic liquid to catalyze the reaction and help reduce the energy required to drive the process. 

The Illinois researchers used an electrochemical cell as a flow reactor, separating the gaseous CO2 input and oxygen output from the liquid electrolyte catalyst with gas-diffusion electrodes.

“It lowers the overpotential for CO2 reduction tremendously,” said Paul Kenis, who is also a professor of mechanical science and engineering and affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, said in a press release. “Therefore, a much lower potential has to be applied. Applying a much lower potential corresponds to consuming less energy to drive the process.”

The next step for the researchers is to "tackle the problem of throughput."

“More work is needed, but this research brings us a significant step closer to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions that are linked to unwanted climate change,” Kenis said in a press release.

The team reported their results in the journal Science.


Image Caption: Biofuel production (left) compared to fuel produced via artificial synthesis. Crops takes in CO2, water and sunlight to create biomass, which then is transferred to a refinery to create fuel. In the artificial photosynthesis route, a solar collector or windmill collects energy that powers an electrolyzer, which converts CO2 to a synthesis gas that is piped to a refinery to create fuel. | Graphic by Dioxide Materials


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