Scientists discover way to convert captured carbon into a useful commodity

Capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide may be an efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change, but there’s something unsatisfying about this process. The gas is simply captured, compressed, and then buried deep underground. Unsatisfied with this method, a team of scientists has figured out a way to put the captured greenhouse gas to better use.

Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory have recently discovered a new catalyst that allows them to convert water and carbon dioxide into ethanol with very high energy efficiency, high selectivity for the desired final product, and low cost.

Made of atomically dispersed copper on carbon-powder support, the catalyst breaks down carbon dioxide and water molecules, after which it selectively reassembles them into ethanol using electricity.

The new electrochemical process converts carbon dioxide emitted from industrial processes, such as fossil fuel power plants or alcohol fermentation plants, into valuable commodities at a reasonable cost.

Once the ethanol is created, it can be used as a fuel additive, or as an intermediate product in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics industries. The process would thus contribute towards a “circular carbon economy” that reuses carbon dioxide, preventing it from leaking into the atmosphere and warming up the planet.

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