Scientists at Rutgers University are working to commercialize a new catalyst that can convert carbon dioxide (CO₂) into useful chemicals, to reduce the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere. The team developed electrocatalysts that can generate larger molecular weight products of greater value with a higher energy conversion efficiency. To market and scale up their technology and hopefully reduce dependence on traditional fossil-derived feedstocks, the team started Renew CO₂, a company that develops clean electrochemical processes that convert CO₂ into monomers and other organic chemicals.
Researchers found that carbon dioxide can be electrochemically converted into methanol, ethanol, methane and ethylene with relatively high yields, but are too inefficient and expensive to produce at commercial level. However, the Rutgers team discovered that carbon dioxide and water can be electrochemically converted into a number of carbon-based products, using five catalysts made of different combination of nickel and phosphorous, both of which are inexpensive and abundant.
The goal of RenewCO₂ is to provide the chemical industry with new technologies for sustainable monomer production from carbon dioxide and develop scalable production modules based on their electrocatalyst design.
This new electrocatalyst is the first material other than enzymes that can convert CO₂ and water into carbon building blocks that either feature one, two, three or four carbon atoms with more than 99 percent efficiency. This process produces both methylglyoxal (C₃) and 2, 3-furandiol (C₄), both of which can be used as precursors for plastics, adhesives and pharmaceuticals. Methylglyoxal is also seen as a safer alternative to the toxic formaldehyde.