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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Recycling CO2
Hugh Bollinger

Recycling CO2

Coal-fired power plant and CO2 emissions (credit: LinkedIn/Dawid Hanak)

In what could represent a 'game changer', allowing the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) to become a potential 'climate solution', has been made. Investigators working at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago have developed an inexpensive, tin-based, catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide gas into three widely used liquid chemicals. CO2 from fossil fuel power plants and other industralial sources is the primary greenhouse gas responsible for warming the atmosphere.

According to the the Department of Energy that manages the Lab, CO2 can now be converted into ethanol, acetic acid, and formic acid in an electro-catalzyed reaction, ie., the conversion of CO2 into these chemicals uses a catalyst powered by electricity. Publishing research results in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), the investigators describe how their tin catalyst can produce each of these compounds by varying the  surface area size of the material from individual atoms to larger clusters in an ultra-thin mesh. In this manner, the process can control the conversion of the three different products individually. Conversion efficiencies exceeded more than 90% for each.


                                Tin catalyst mesh converts CO2 into ethanol, acetic and formic acids (credit: Argonne Labs/DOE)

Ethanol, widely produced now from corn, is added into gasoline for most cars. Gas sold today contains 10% ethanol as E-10 Gasohol. Acetic acid, the tangy component of vinegar, has other non-culinary uses ranging from adhesives to paints, medical antiseptics, and pharmaceuticals while formic acid is used in cleaning products and as a preservative in livestock feeds.

An previous DOE effort to convert CO2 into ethanol, also with a catalyst, offered a promising start but the conversion efficient was lower the Argonne process revealed. A DOE video explains how the conversion basically occurs in both. This research shows significant promise and may provide a pathway for carbon-capture installations to become a real opportunity as a 'climate solution' if the lab results can be implemented at an economic and industrial scale. There is certainly no lack of the raw material as a resource that already exists in the atmosphere that could be removed. WHB


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