August 14, 2022

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Carbon Dioxide Reactor Synthesizes Martian Fuel


University of Cincinnati chemical engineering pupil Tianyu Zhang holds up a vial of graphene used as a catalyst to transform carbon dioxide into methane. Credit: Andrew Higley/UC Creative

A gasoline station on Mars? Chemical engineers envision the chances.

Engineers on the University of Cincinnati are creating new methods to transform greenhouse gases to gasoline to deal with local weather change and get astronauts house from Mars.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science assistant professor Jingjie Wu and his college students used a carbon catalyst in a reactor to transform carbon dioxide into methane. Known because the “Sabatier reaction” from the late French chemist Paul Sabatier, it’s a course of the International Space Station makes use of to clean the carbon dioxide from air the astronauts breathe and generate rocket gasoline to maintain the station in excessive orbit.

But Wu is pondering a lot larger.

Jingjie Wu and Tianyu Zhang

UC chemical engineering assistant professor Jingjie Wu, left and doctoral pupil Tianyu Zhang are experimenting with totally different catalysts to transform carbon dioxide to storable gasoline to deal with local weather change. Credit: Andrew Higley/UC Creative

The Martian environment consists virtually solely of carbon dioxide. Astronauts might save half the gasoline they want for a return journey house by making what they want on the crimson planet as soon as they arrive, Wu mentioned.

“It’s like a gas station on Mars. You could easily pump carbon dioxide through this reactor and produce methane for a rocket,” Wu mentioned.

UC’s examine was revealed in the journal Nature Communications with collaborators from Rice University, Shanghai University, and East China University of Science and Technology.

Wu started his profession in chemical engineering by learning gasoline cells for electrical autos however started taking a look at carbon dioxide conversion in his chemical engineering lab about 10 years in the past.

Catalyst Converts Carbon Dioxide Into Methane

UC chemical engineer Jingjie Wu holds up the reactor the place a catalyst converts carbon dioxide into methane. UC’s analysis makes him optimistic that scientists will be capable to take away carbon dioxide from the environment. Credit: Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

“I realized that greenhouse gases were going to be a big issue in society,” Wu mentioned. “A lot of countries realized that carbon dioxide is a big issue for the sustainable development of our society. That’s why I think we need to achieve carbon neutrality.”

The Biden Administration has set a objective of reaching a 50% discount in greenhouse gasoline pollution by 2030 and an financial system that depends on renewable power by 2050.

“That means we’ll have to recycle carbon dioxide,” Wu mentioned.

Wu and his college students, together with lead creator and UC doctoral candidate Tianyu Zhang, are experimenting with totally different catalysts resembling graphene quantum dots — layers of carbon simply nanometers massive — that may enhance the yield of methane.

“Right now we have excess green energy that we just throw away. We can store this excess renewable energy in chemicals.”

Jingjie Wu, UC assistant professor of chemical engineering

Wu mentioned the method holds promise to assist mitigate local weather change. But it additionally has an enormous industrial benefit in producing gasoline as a byproduct.

“The process is 100 times more productive than it was just 10 years ago. So you can imagine that progress will come faster and faster,” Wu mentioned. “In the next 10 years, we’ll have a lot of startup companies to commercialize this technique.”

Wu’s college students are utilizing totally different catalysts to provide not solely methane however ethylene. Called the world’s most essential chemical, ethylene is used within the manufacture of plastics, rubber, artificial clothes, and different merchandise.

“Green energy will be very important. In the future, it will represent a huge market. So I wanted to work on it,” Zhang mentioned.

Experimental Reactor Uses Graphene Quantum Dots

An experimental reactor makes use of graphene quantum dots as a catalyst to transform carbon dioxide into methane. Credit: Andrew Higley/UC Creative

Synthesizing gasoline from carbon dioxide turns into much more commercially viable when coupled with renewable power resembling photo voltaic or wind energy, Wu mentioned.

“Right now we have excess green energy that we just throw away. We can store this excess renewable energy in chemicals,” he mentioned.

The course of is scalable to be used in energy crops that may generate tons of carbon dioxide. And it’s environment friendly because the conversion can happen proper the place extra carbon dioxide is produced.

Jingjie Wu

UC chemical engineer Jingjie Wu is experimenting with totally different catalysts to transform carbon dioxide to fuels resembling methane to deal with local weather change. Credit: Andrew Higley/UC Creative

Wu mentioned advances in gasoline manufacturing from carbon dioxide make him extra assured that people will set foot on Mars in his lifetime.

“Right now if you want to come back from Mars, you would need to bring twice as much fuel, which is very heavy,” he mentioned. “And in the future, you’ll need other fuels. So we can produce methanol from carbon dioxide and use them to produce other downstream materials. Then maybe one day we could live on Mars.”

Reference: “Regulation of functional groups on graphene quantum dots directs selective CO2 to CH4 conversion” by Tianyu Zhang, Weitao Li, Kai Huang, Huazhang Guo, Zhengyuan Li, Yanbo Fang, Ram Manohar Yadav, Vesselin Shanov, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Liang Wang, Cheng Lian and Jingjie Wu, 6 September 2021, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-25640-1





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