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Nanostructured catalyst converts CO2 to ethanol electrochemically

By Scott Jenkins |

Reducing carbon dioxide to useful fuel molecules is a highly desired objective, but is difficult because the required reactions are energetically unfavorable, and a cost-effective and robust catalyst for the reduction has been elusive. Now researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; Oak Ridge, Tenn.; www.ornl.gov) may have found such a catalyst — nanostructured carbon with embedded copper nanoparticles — that can convert CO2 to ethanol in an electrochemical cell. “The reaction between CO2 and the catalyst is kind of a reverse combustion process that takes place in a modified fuel cell,” explains Adam Rondinone, ORNL senior scientist. “It offers a pathway for using renewable electricity to make carbon fuels from a greenhouse gas.” In March, the ORNL catalyst and electrochemical cell technology was licensed by ReactWell LLC (New Orleans, La.; www.reactwell.com) for further development, and inclusion in industrial process units. “The catalyst is a heavily textured graphene with copper nanoparticles lodged into the surface,” says Rondinone. “The graphene forms carbon ‘nanospikes’ that orient the CO2 molecules to influence the reaction mechanism.” The catalyst material forms localized electric fields, which…
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