Efficient process converts carbon dioxide to ethanol

6 August 2020 | Muriel Cozier

‘The process resulting from our catalysts could contribute to the circular carbon economy.’

A research team led by the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with Northern Illinois University, have developed a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide and water into ethanol. The process is said to be achieved with very high energy efficiency, high selectivity for the final product and at a low cost.

The catalyst comprises atomically dispersed copper on a carbon-powder support. An electrochemical reaction causes the catalyst to break down carbon dioxide and water molecules and selectively ‘reassembles’ the molecules as ethanol under an external electric field.

he electrocatalytic selectivity of the process is in excess of 90%, much higher than any other reported process, the researchers say.
Tao Xu, Professor in physical chemistry and nanotechnology at Northern Illinois University said ‘The mechanism should also provide a foundation for development of highly efficient electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide conversion into a vast array of value-added chemicals.’

The researchers added that it would be possible to couple their electrochemical carbon dioxide- to- ethanol process to the electric grid and take advantage of the low-cost electricity available from renewable sources like solar and wind during off-peak hours.

‘The process resulting from our catalysts could contribute to the circular carbon economy,’ said Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division.

The researchers said that they plan to continue their work in collaboration with industry to advance their promising technology.

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