U Delaware Team Turns Greenhouse Gases Into Useful Chemicals
January 31, 2014

Greenhouse Gases Turned Into Useful Chemicals

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

University of Delaware researchers have found a way to convert greenhouse gases into useful chemicals.

Researchers developed a selective catalyst that is able to electrochemically convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide with 92 percent efficiency.

“Converting carbon dioxide to useful chemicals in a selective and efficient way remains a major challenge in renewable and sustainable energy research,” Feng Jiao, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the project’s lead researcher, said in a statement.

The team used a nanoporous silver electrocatalyst that was 3,000 times more active than polycrystalline silver, which is a catalyst commonly used in converting greenhouse gases to chemicals. Scientists view silver as a promising material for converting greenhouse gases because it offers 81 percent selectivity and costs less than other precious metal catalysts.

Jiao said the team’s catalyst is exceptionally high because of its extremely large and highly curved internal surface, which is about 150 times larger and 20 times intrinsically more active than poly crystalline silver. He said that active sites on the curved internal surface required a smaller than expected voltage to overcome the activation energy barrier needed to drive the reaction.

The carbon monoxide can be used to help produce synthetic fuels, while reducing industrial carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 40 percent. This could have a significant impact in trying to reduce the carbon footprint that could be crippling areas of our planet.

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that in 2004, 19 percent of greenhouse gas emissions resulted from industry. Jiao said their tool would likely be used to convert carbon dioxide produced by power plants, refiners and petrochemical plants.

“Selective conversion of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide is a promising route for clean energy but it is a technically difficult process to accomplish,” said Jiao. “We’re hopeful that the catalyst we’ve developed can pave the way toward future advances in this area.”

Other measures that have been taken to reduce the carbon footprint have proven to be successful, according to a report by the Kennedy Space Center. Frank Kline with Kennedy’s Sustainability office said electric cars are reducing greenhouse gas emission by a greater amount than expected. He said the numbers are 10 times better than they thought they would see.

Although electric vehicles produce no greenhouse gases, the power plants that provide the electricity for these cars do, which is where Jiao’s team could step up and help out.