Chemists have long hoped to find a method of bringing the combustion of fuel full circle by turning CO2 back into useful hydrocarbons. Now researchers at the University of Messina in Italy have developed an electrocatalytic technique they say could do the job, reports New Scientist (16 September 2006, p.30).
"Not a dream": "The conversion of CO2 to fuel is not a dream, but an effective possibility which requires further research," says team leader Gabriele Centi. The researchers chemically reduced CO2 to produce eight and nine-carbon hydrocarbons using a catalyst of particles of platinum and palladium confined in carbon nanotubes. These hydrocarbons can be made into petrol and diesel.
How it works: To begin with, the researchers used sunlight plus a thin film of titanium dioxide to act as a photocatalyst to split water into oxygen gas plus protons and electrons. These are then carried off separately, via a proton membrane and wire respectively, before being combined with CO2 plus the nano-catalyst to produce the hydrocarbons.
Better efficiency "possible": Although the nano-catalysts produced two or three times more hydrocarbons than a commercially available catalyst, the process converted only about 1 per cent of the CO2 at room temperature. Centi believes it will be possible to improve on that by using higher temperatures and a larger surface area of catalyst.
10 year target: It will also be necessary to boost the efficiency of the solar water-splitting, he says. With the right research, Centi believes that an efficient solar-powered reactor for converting CO2 into fuel could be available "within a decade".
EU funding: He presented his latest work, which is funded by the European Union, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco on 13 September.
"Worthwhile": Ian Plumb, who researches water-splitting reactions at the Australian national research institute CSIRO Industrial Physics, says that unless the efficiency is improved it will be too expensive to implement. "But there is no doubt that what they are trying to achieve is very worthwhile."
New Scientist, 16/9/2006, p.30
Source: Erisk Net