Researchers from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering have discovered a new nanoparticle that can sustainably turn carbon emissions into fuel.
The research has been done in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
The team has discovered a metal carbide nanoparticle -- a compound of carbon and metal -- that can convert CO2 into fuel.
According to researchers, the particle can be produced sustainably at low temperature. This means that the particles can be produced at an industrial scale at a low cost, and with minimal environmental impact, providing a vital pathway toward reducing the world’s greenhouse emissions.
One of the authors of the research, Noah Malmstadt, professor at the University of Southern California, said basically what they are doing is turning the carbon dioxide from carbon-oxygen bonds to carbon-hydrogen bonds. So, they are turning carbon dioxide back into hydrocarbons, he said.
“Hydrocarbons are basic fuel stock. You can either turn them into fuel stock chemicals such as methane or propane. Or you can use them as the basis for chemical synthesis so they can be building blocks for making more complex chemicals,” he said.
He further said that, until now, the process for creating the catalyst particles was very energy-intensive, making it an impractical solution for converting carbon emissions.
In contrast, the team’s discovery uses a millifluidic reactor process, a very small- scale chemical reactor system, which has a minimal environmental footprint. This means the particles can be produced at temperatures as low as 300 degrees centigrade, resulting in smaller and more uniform particles, which make them ideal for converting CO2 to hydrocarbons, said Malmstadt.
“We are producing the particles sustainably, using green chemistry methods,” Malmstadt said.
“The chemical reactor system operates in channels that are less than a millimeter across, which offers a ton of advantages over traditional reactors, particularly in terms of making materials that are very uniform and very high quality,” he said.
“This offers an easy route to scale the chemistry, and from the point of view of sustainability in terms of energy use, and the amount of personnel hours that go into producing the materials, it's much lower for these millifluidic routes than it is for traditional approaches to manufacturing the chemicals,” Malmstadt added.