Tech Breakthrough Turns CO2 into valuable Chemicals with 93% efficiency

Breakthrough Turns CO2 into valuable Chemicals

Researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, China, have unlocked a game-changing method to tackle climate change? According to the South China Morning Post, they’ve discovered a groundbreaking way to turn carbon dioxide gas from the air into valuable chemicals, achieving a pivotal milestone in environmental science.

As the world works towards reducing the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet’s climate, scientists are investigating various methods to convert this greenhouse gas into valuable substances such as methanol, ethanol, alkanes, or olefins. However, current conversion systems face a significant challenge – they can only operate for a limited period, usually around a hundred hours, making them impractical for large-scale use.

Conversion systems have a short operational lifespan because of scientists’ electrochemical techniques. These techniques involve applying an electric charge to change the properties of chemicals, such as breaking down carbon dioxide molecules and introducing elements like hydrogen to create hydrocarbons like ethanol or formic acid. 

Although these processes occur in an electrolyte, which is usually an alkaline substance, they often lead to undesirable by-products like carbonates. These by-products accumulate on equipment surfaces, reduce efficiency, and limit the lifespan of laboratory equipment to a few hundred hours.

In a five-year collaborative effort, researchers from HUST and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, endeavored to address this challenge. Their endeavor culminated in discovering an electrolyte capable of sustaining the operation of conversion systems for at least 5,000 hours—a significant improvement over existing methods, with recorded system efficiency reaching 93 percent.

In a demonstration of their technology, the research team successfully produced formic acid from carbon dioxide, a chemical with diverse applications in agriculture and potential use in fuel cells. Furthermore, they anticipate expanding their capabilities to produce ethylene—a vital chemical with widespread applications in textiles, automotive, and printing industries.

Beyond its immediate applications, the team envisions its technology playing a pivotal role in decarbonizing operations within the fossil fuel industry, underscoring its potential to contribute to broader environmental sustainability efforts.

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