Scientists developed mechanism to recycle CO2 into usable fuel

Aug 3, 2016 17:14 IST

American researchers have developed a mechanism to convert greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into carbon monoxide (CO) that can be recycled into usable fuel.

The mechanism is based on the photosynthesis process that trees uses to convert CO2 into sugars.

It was developed by US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study, "Nanostructured transition metal dichalcogenide electrocatalysts for CO2 reduction in ionic liquid," was published in Science.


Although the reaction to transform carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide (CO) is different from anything found in nature, it requires the same basic inputs as photosynthesis.

Difference between scientific conversion and conversion in plants

Scientific Conversion

 Conversion in Plants

  • The researchers used a metal compound called tungsten diselenide, which was fashioned into nanosized flakes to maximize the surface area and to expose its reactive edges.
  • Here the ingredients were the same, but the product is different.
  • To convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into a sugar, plants use an organic catalyst called an enzyme.
  • In photosynthesis, trees need energy from light, water and carbon dioxide in order to make their fuel.

The setup for the reaction is almost similar to nature in this case that the research team was able to construct an "artificial leaf" that could complete the entire three-step reaction pathway.

First step: Incoming photons -- packets of light -- are converted to pairs of negatively-charged electrons and corresponding positively-charged "holes" that then separate from each other.

Second step: The holes react with water molecules, creating protons and oxygen molecules.

Third step: The protons, electrons and carbon dioxide all react together to create carbon monoxide and water.

Although carbon monoxide is also a greenhouse gas, it is much more reactive than carbon dioxide and scientists already have ways of converting carbon monoxide into usable fuel, such as methanol.

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