Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction that turns CO2 into ethanol, which could create new technology to help avoid climate change. Their results were published in the journal ChemistrySelect. [See here for a further in-depth interview on the results with one of the principal investigators.]
The researchers tried to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step, their process was successful. The reaction converts CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used for electric generators and vehicles.
The technology involves a new combination of copper and carbon arranged in nanospikes on a silicon surface. Nanotechnology allows reactions to be very precise, with very few contaminants.
“By using common materials, but with nanotechnology, we understood how to limit side reactions and have the desired result,” said Adam Rondinone.
This process has several advantages over other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as fuel.
Perhaps more importantly, it works at room temperature, which means it can be started and stopped easily and inexpensively. This means that this conversion process can be used as a temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy production, and reduce fluctuations in the renewable energy grid.
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“A process like this will allow you to consume additional electricity when it is available to make and store ethanol,” Rondinone said. “It could help balance the energy provided by intermittent renewable sources. “