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New catalyst offers a solution for using captured carbon

When the reaction occurs in the presence of hydrogen, for example, carbon dioxide and hydrogen transform into synthesis gas (or syngas).

The world's top 25 'carbon majors' caused climate damage at a cost of 20 trillion dollars from 1985-2018, but their financial gains were about 50 percent larger during those years
The world's top 25 'carbon majors' caused climate damage at a cost of 20 trillion dollars from 1985-2018, but their financial gains were about 50 percent larger during those years. - © © OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP
The world's top 25 'carbon majors' caused climate damage at a cost of 20 trillion dollars from 1985-2018, but their financial gains were about 50 percent larger during those years. - © © OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

Good news on the environment front. Researchers have identified a sugar-based catalyst that upcycles carbon dioxide. The new catalyst could offer a potential solution for using captured carbon.

Advances in carbon capture technologies means that post-combustion carbon capture is becoming a plausible option to help tackle the global climate change crisis. However, how can the captured carbon be handled? The new catalyst, as Phys.org reports, potentially provides one solution for disposing the potent greenhouse gas by converting it into a more valuable product.

The catalyst, from a Northwestern University study, converts carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, a building block for producing a variety of useful chemicals. Here the catalyst selectively converts carbon dioxide and is stable enough to last for 500 hours without degrading (under harsh reaction conditions at 600°C).

Operating at ambient pressures and high temperatures (300-600 degrees Celsius), the catalyst converted carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide with 100 percent selectivity. This means that the catalyst acted only on the carbon dioxide without disrupting surrounding materials.

When the reaction occurs in the presence of hydrogen, for example, carbon dioxide and hydrogen transform into synthesis gas (or syngas). This is a highly valuable precursor to producing fuels that can potentially replace gasoline.

Furthermore, the new catalyst is relatively low-cost, being made from an inexpensive, abundant metal and table sugar. The new catalyst is based on molybdenum carbide, an extremely hard ceramic material. To transform molybdenum into molybdenum carbide, the scientists needed a source of carbon. They discovered a cheap option in the form of sugar – an inexpensive, convenient source of carbon atoms.

For the carbon conversion process to be truly practical, the selected a catalyst needs to meet the criteria of: affordability, stability, ease of production and scalability. Even here, balancing these four criteria is key if the catalyst is to be optimal. The research suggests the path towards this has opened up.

The research has been published in the journal Science. The paper is titled “An active, stable cubic molybdenum carbide catalyst for the high-temperature reverse water-gas shift reaction”.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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