In a new twist to existing ORNL technology, researchers have developed an electrocatalyst that enables water and carbon dioxide to be split and recombined to create high-weight hydrocarbons for nuclear gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
The technology is a carbon nanocaque catalyst that uses custom-designed alloy nanoparticles, licensed by California-based Prometheus Fuels. The catalyzed surface of the catalyst provides sufficient reactive sites to facilitate carbon dioxide-to-hydrocarbon conversion.
“This state-of-the-art catalyst will enable us to further reduce the price of our zero pure carbon fuel,” said Prometheus CEO and founder Rob McGinnis.
The company plans to use technology in its process to convert solar energy and wind to chemical energy to create zero pure carbon electrofuels.
Carbon nanocopic catalysts were invented at ORNL’s Center for Nanopase Material Sciences using a one-of-a-kind nanofibration instrument and staff expertise.
In a new twist to waste-to-fuel technology, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the Department of Energy have developed an electrochemical process that uses small spikes of carbon and copper to convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. Does. His discovery, which includes nanofibrication and catalysis science, was serious.
“We found out to some extent by accident that this material worked,” said Adam Rondinone of ORNL, the lead author of the team’s study published in Chemistry. “We were trying to study the first phase of the proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst is carrying out the entire reaction itself.”
The team used catalysts made of carbon, copper and nitrogen and applied voltages to trigger a complex chemical reaction that essentially reversed the combustion process. With the help of nano-based catalysts that contain multiple reaction sites, the solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water is converted to ethanol with a yield of 63 percent. Typically, this type of electrochemical reaction results in a small amount of mixing of several different products.
“We’re taking carbon dioxide, the waste product of combustion, and we’re pushing that combustion reaction backwards with a very high selectivity for a useful fuel,” Rondinone said. “Ethanol was a surprise – it is extremely difficult to go directly from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a catalyst.”
The novelty of the catalyst lies in its nanoscale structure, which consists of copper nanoparticles embedded in carbon spikes. This nano-texturing approach avoids the use of expensive or rare metals such as platinum which limits the economic feasibility of many catalysts.
“Using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with one thing we want.”
Initial analysis by the researchers suggests that the catalytic notched surface provides sufficient reactive sites to facilitate surface carbon dioxide-to-ethanol conversion.
“They are like 50-nanometer lightning rods that concentrate the electrochemical reaction at the tip of the spike,” said Rondinone.
Given the technology’s dependence on low-cost materials and its ability to operate at room temperature in water, researchers believe that this approach can be extended to industrially relevant applications. For example, this process can be used to store excess electricity generated from variable power sources such as wind and solar.
“Such a process would allow you to consume additional electricity when available to make and store as ethanol,” Rondinone said. “It can help balance the grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”
Researchers plan to improve the overall production rate and refine their approach to study the properties and behavior of catalysts.