by Whitney Clavin (California Institute of Technology) A new additive helps researchers more selectively convert CO2 to multicarbon fuels — Chemists have figured out a new, more efficient way to create carbon-based fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2). In chemical reactions performed in the lab, a Caltech team has identified a new additive that helps selectively convert CO2 into fuels containing multiple carbon atoms—a step toward ultimately making renewable liquid fuels that are not derived from coal or oil.
“The results were quite shocking,” says Jonas Peters, Bren Professor of Chemistry at Caltech and director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute, who jointly led the research in collaboration with Theodor Agapie, professor of chemistry at Caltech. “Usually, in these types of reactions with CO2, you see a lot of by-products like methane and hydrogen. In this case, the reaction was highly selective for the more desirable fuels that contain multiple carbons—such as ethylene, ethanol, and propanol. We saw an 80 percent conversion to these multi-carbon fuel products, with only 20 percent or so going into hydrogen and methane.”
Fuels with multiple carbon atoms are more desirable because they tend to be liquid—and liquid fuels store more energy per volume than gaseous ones. For instance, propanol, which is liquid and contains three carbon atoms, stores more energy than methane, which is a gas and only has one carbon atom.
The goal of chemists like Peters, Agapie, and their colleagues working at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hub, is to artificially create multi-carbon liquid transportation fuels using the widely available ingredients of sunlight, water, and CO2 . The new research, published July 21 in the ACS Central Science, and funded by JCAP, is a step toward that goal.
Ultimately, this information may help lead to alternate fuels made efficiently from sunlight, CO2, and water—instead of oil.
The ACS Central Science study is titled, “CO2 Reduction Selective for C≥2 Products on Polycrystalline Copper with N-substituted Pyridinium Additives.” READ MORE