It’s been said that we have been polluting the air with billions of tons of carbon dioxide and that its a bad thing. Well … not if you’re Frederic Goettmann, a chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany. He is designing a catalyst that could help turn CO2 into fuel!
Goettman stated “We have taken the first step towards using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a source for chemical synthesis. Future refinements could allow chemists to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels as sources for making chemicals. Liquid fuel could also be made from carbon monoxide split from CO2.”
Here are some highlights from the Goettmann article:
In an attempt to emulate this natural process, Goettmann and colleagues Arne Thomas and Markus Antonietti developed their own nitrogen-based catalyst that can produce carbamates. The graphite-like compound is made from flat layers of carbon and nitrogen atoms arranged in hexagons.
The catalyst’s next useful step was to enable the benzene molecules to grab the oxygen atom from the CO2 in the carbamate, producing phenol and a reactive carbon monoxide (CO) species.
The researchers are now trying to bring their method even closer to photosynthesis. “The benzene reaction currently supplies the energy that splits the CO2,” Goettmann says, “but in plants it is light.” The new catalyst absorbs ultraviolet radiation, so the team is experimenting to see if light can provide the energy instead.
The Max Planck technique has only been demonstrated on a small scale and it has a low yield of 20%, he points out. “But it looks quite promising,” he adds. “The catalyst can be made cheaply and it works at a relatively low temperature.”
Investors, investors? Where are you? This is a disruptive technology in the making. If these guys are really able to turn carbon dioxide into fuel in a way that yields a net energy gain, it is a monumental step for energy sustainability. If they can adapt the technology to breakdown carbon dioxide and convert it to other non-polluting sources such as graphite, it could even be used to fight global warming — albeit, it would have to be used quite broadly!