Scientists at Rice University have been able to take a greenhouse gas and convert it into liquid fuel in a more environmentally friendly manner. Developed by Rice University lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang and a team of scientists, the catalytic reactor uses carbon dioxide as its feedstock and produces purified concentrations of formic acid. As it currently stands, formic acid that’s produced by traditional means is costly and requires a lot of energy. The system created by the Rice researchers could help promote commercial carbon dioxide conversion technologies.

“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,” said Wang in a press release announcing the research. “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.”

The new system is a result of Wang and the team from Rice’s Brown School of Engineering’s charge to find useful technologies that can turn greenhouse gases into products. The team was able to reach an energy conversion efficiency of around 42% with this test.

Chuan Xia, Rice postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Energy, said his development of a two-dimensional bismuth catalyst and the development of a solid-state electrolyte that removes the need for salt to get a reaction made the conversion of the greenhouse gas into something more environmentally friendly possible.  Once the process was perfected, the scientists worked with Brookhaven National Laboratory to watch the process in progress. The lab was able to generate formic acid continuously for 100 hours with little in the way of degradation of the reactor’s components.  The scientists see their work having a bigger impact on the environment.

What can this mean for global warming?

Carbon dioxide is the main culprit in global warming. A larger portion of the energy used globally is produced from fossil fuels leading to a widespread release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The effects of global warming can be felt more in the arctic north with the constant melting away of the arctic ice. Scientists have been trying to find solutions to this problem to save the earth from an environmental catastrophe. So far this is the only solution that has the potential of directly tackling the problem- taking the CO2 off the atmosphere and restoring the normal balance of atmospheric gases. Wang said, “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.”

Source: Interesting Engineering


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