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What to Do With All that Carbon Dioxide: Why Not Make it into a Fuel Source?

What to Do With All that Carbon Dioxide: Why Not Make it into a Fuel Source?

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is warming our planet, but now a team of scientists believe they might have found a way to take carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas to a greener fuel-source in its own right.

Scientists working at the University of Illinois in Chicago had already created a system by which to convert carbon dioxide into what are known as syngas or, to put it another way, a synthesis gas that can be used as a fuel. Thinking in terms of commercial viability, the main issue with the process was that it required the use of very expensive metals like gold or silver as catalysts in order to activate the needed reduction reaction for this conversion process.

The new method devised by scientists cuts the need for those metals. The two-step process instead uses the inorganic metallic compound molybdenum disulfide and what’s known as an ionic liquid to reduce the carbon dioxide to syngas. What’s more, molybdeneum disulfide provides a number of advantages over other metallic compounds. For instance, it can be easily tweaked to allow for a more efficient process. Also, while synga production in this instance involves creating hydrogen and carbon monoxide, the quantities of each gas could be manipulated to reduce the monoxide and thus further improve a future fuel source.

Salehi-Khojin, a primary investigator on the study, is quoted saying that the end goal for all this work is making the reduction process a wide-scale reality: “Our whole purpose is to move from laboratory experiments to real-world applications,” he said. “This is a real breakthrough that can take a waste gas — carbon dioxide — and use inexpensive catalysts to produce another source of energy at large-scale, while making a healthier environment.”

This isn’t the only research of its kind, though. MIT researchers have created a method to “trap” carbon dioxide and turn into useful organic compounds that, in the long term, might allow them to create carbon neutral energy sources where the carbon dioxide they will release will only be roughly what went into making the fuel in the first place.

Researchers from Singapore have also managed to turn carbon dioxide into methanol which, among other things, can be used as a clean burning biofuel.

These technologies are far from being ready to implement, but the new research from the University of Illinois is a reduction process that, potentially, could be much easier to reproduce and industrialize, bringing hopes of significantly reducing the levels of carbon dioxide and cutting how much we add in the future.

There are still some barriers to mass production, though. The study, which was published in Nature Communications on July 30, notes that keeping efficiency at higher scales is still a challenge (though not insurmountable), and we could speculate that a great deal of this technology’s success going forward will be whether the research can get the necessary funds it needs to keep pursuing this technology.

With the U.S. House desperate to cut federal funding to any program that might loosely relate to fighting climate change, and to shackle the government from spending money on renewable or even greener energies, there’s still a lot of climate change-skeptic hot air to fight before we see green energy initiatives like this get the funding they deserve.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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94 comments

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11:29AM PDT on Aug 5, 2014

Vivianne M.,
I do not think it is the big business people stopping it. It is cost prohibitive. If it was cheaper, the big boys would be all over it - producing it more cheaply, but selling it at the same high price. These processes have been around for ages, and are used in remote places, where conventional energy cannot be obtained. No one has been able to make them cost effective to compete on a wide-spread basis - yet.

1:16PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

There has always been alternate ways of producing energy. It is the big business people that has stopped it from being made. They seem to be at the bottom of a lot of ideas that never made it to the general public.

3:20PM PDT on Aug 3, 2014

I am all for any kinds of alternative fuels Oh and by the way FPL had asked the Public Service commission for its 7th increase for a potential nuclear upgrade to Turkey Point. They have 20 employees that make over $5 million per year and just laid off 1,000

11:06AM PDT on Aug 3, 2014

Sounds promising! :)

5:59AM PDT on Aug 3, 2014

Thank you -- science is always political -- what gets funded always depends on "moral" beliefs of people in power -- how is letting an entire planet lay waste and bringing on a mass extinction moral??? I don't know, but preserving the current capitalist system based in oil, military, and industry is apparently the moral way to go...

4:36AM PDT on Aug 3, 2014

The direction to go for our shared future

4:32AM PDT on Aug 3, 2014

Thanks for the article.

4:23AM PDT on Aug 3, 2014

signé merci Steve

10:54AM PDT on Aug 2, 2014

sounds great--hope it comes to pass.

10:39AM PDT on Aug 2, 2014

For just a few dollars, stop 1000 tons of CO2 emissions now by saving acres of rainforest:

https://www.rainforesttrust.org/acres-for-50cents/

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