Most of the planet has set its sights on mitigating and avoiding the effects of climate change, and it makes sense that carbon dioxide is a focal point for many of these efforts. Last year, it was determined that carbon dioxide’s atmospheric levels exceeded 400 parts-per-million for the first time in four million years.
At the same time, many people around the world are facing an energy crisis. Thus, the planet is simultaneously experiencing an excess of undesirable carbon dioxide and a low supply of energy.
These two separate but related issues have been addressed by a recently discovered process that converts carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which can be used to produce various chemical products, including fuels like methanol.
The catalyst for this process is a collection of golden nanoneedles, the tips of which are 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Applying an electrical bias to a nanoneedle array results in a high electric field at the sharp tips. This electric field attracts carbon dioxide and speeds up its reduction to carbon monoxide at a rate faster than any catalyst which had been previously reported.
“If we take CO2 from industrial flue emissions or from the atmosphere, and use it as a reagent for fuels, which provide long-term storage for green energy, we’re killing two birds with one stone,” said University of Toronto researcher Yuanjie Pang.
The increased rate achieved by the gold nanoneedle catalyst also signifies major steps in both selectivity and efficiency, bringing the reduction of carbon dioxide closer to being deployed by commercial electrolysers. The discovery also holds potential for the development of storage systems for alternative energy technologies.
As part of their future research, the team wants to eliminate the step in which carbon monoxide is produced and instead produce more conventional fuels directly.
With the potential to solve two major global crises, answer a challenge faced by renewables and representing breakthroughs in catalysis, this development really does present a golden opportunity.
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