Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US have uncovered a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into ethanol at ambient temperature and pressure. The electrochemical process developed uses a catalyst formed from copper nanoparticles embedded in carbon spikes that convert carbon dioxide dissolved in water into ethanol.
“We’re taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we’re pushing that combustion reaction backwards with very high selectivity to a useful fuel,” said research leader Adam Rondinone.
In their research paper discussing the breakthrough, the team noted that while copper is arguably the best-known catalyst for electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide, the efficiency, and selectivity of converting it into other valuable products has until now proved far too low for practical use. This is because competing side reactions have limited the yield of any single liquid product to single digit percentages. However, this electrochemical process gives a 63% yield. Early analysis suggests that it’s the catalyst’s spiky surface – providing ample reactive sites – that helps drive the efficient conversion.
As the catalyst does not require precious metals and operates in water at room temperature and pressure, the researchers believe it could be scaled up for industrially relevant applications. The team plans to refine its approach for improving the overall production rate and further study the catalyst’s properties and behavior.