*The catalyst consists of copper particles embedded in carbon spikes
*When voltage is applied, the catalyst triggers a complex chemical reaction
*It converts carbon dioxide in water directly to ethanol
*This could be used to store excess electricity from wind and solar power
21 October 2016, Oak Ridge Tennessee — Last year, nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide were pumped into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
But scientists have come up with a way to convert the gas into a more useful product – ethanol.
The researchers stumbled upon the simple reaction by accident, but if the process could be scaled up to industrial size, it could help to reduce the effects of global warming.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol.
Dr Adam Rondinone, the lead author of the study, said: ‘We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked.
‘We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realised that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own.’
‘You can use it [ethanol] in the current vehicle fleet, right now, with no modifications,’ he added.
The researchers created a catalyst – a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction – made of carbon, copper and nitrogen.
When voltage was applied, the catalyst triggered a complex chemical reaction that essentially reverses the combustion process.
With the help of the catalyst, the solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63 per cent.
Without the catalyst, this type of reaction normally results in a mix of several different products in small amounts.
*Shivali Best – Mailonline