Engineers convert greenhouse gases into renewable hydrocarbons, according to a study conducted on May 17, 2018.
This study was conducted by a team of engineers at the University of Toronto and was led by Professor Ted Sargent. Their main vision was to capture carbon dioxide produced by other industrial process and using renewable electricity to transform it into ethylene, which is a common industrial chemical.
Initially, the conversion of carbon dioxide to ethylene was performed in a very basic media and they found that the catalyst improved both the energy efficiency and selectivity of the conversion to the highest levels ever recorded. Furthermore, the engineers tried to improve the catalyst for the formation of ethylene. Then, the problem of stability was addressed by the team. According to theoretical modelling, high pH levels are enough to catalyze carbon dioxide to ethylene. However, under such conditions, most catalysts and their supports break down after less than 10 hours.
A solution to this challenge was brought by the team by altering their experimental setup. The catalyst was deposited on a porous support layer made of polytetrafluoroethylene and the catalyst was sandwiched by placing carbon on the other side. This new setup protects the support and catalyst from degrading due to the basic solution and enables it to last 15 times longer than previous catalysts. Also, efficiency and selectivity was further improved by this method.
The newly developed method or the conversion can only be performed on a laboratory scale. The long-term goal of the team is to scale this technology up to the point where they are able to convert the multiple tons of chemicals needed for commercial application. Sargent said, “We made three simultaneous advances in this work: selectivity, energy-efficiency, and stability. As a group, we are strongly motivated to develop technologies that help us realize the global challenge of a carbon-neutral future.”