Researchers from the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago have found a way to convert carbon dioxide to useful fuel.
The researchers converted carbon dioxide to useful fuel by using solar energy which could open up possibility of a new source of energy as well find way in combating climate change.
The main challenge before the researcher was to sequester carbon dioxide which is relatively chemically unreactive. However, the researchers found out a catalyst which could make carbon dioxide react more readily.
Argonne National Laboratory chemist Larry Curtiss and the author of the study said: "On its own, it is quite difficult to convert carbon dioxide into something else.”
In natural way, plants use an organic catalyst called an enzyme to covert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into a sugar, while the researchers used a metal compound called tungsten diselenide.
The metal compound was fashioned into nanosized flakes to maximize the surface area and to expose its reactive edges.
In this process, scientists managed to convert carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. Though carbon monoxide is itself a greenhouse gas, it is more reactive than carbon dioxide which will help scientists to convert it into usable fuel, such as methanol.
Argonne National Laboratory physicist Peter Zapol and another author of the study said: "Making fuel from carbon monoxide means travelling 'downhill' energetically, while trying to create it directly from carbon dioxide means needing to go 'uphill.”
The reaction to convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide is different from the process found in nature, but the basic inputs are same.
Curtiss added: “In photosynthesis, trees need energy from light, water and carbon dioxide in order to make their fuel; in our experiment, the ingredients are the same, but the product is different."
The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.
Researcher carried the most of the experimental work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, while the computational work was performed at Argonne.
During the study, the researchers also found that the reaction requires less energy and efficient while the tungsten diselenide catalyst used in the reaction is quite durable enough, lasting for more than 100 hour.
Zapol added: "We burn so many different kinds of hydrocarbons — like coal, oil or gasoline — that finding an economical way to make chemical fuels more reusable with the help of sunlight might have a big impact."