The drive to capture airborne carbon dioxide from industrial waste and make it into fuel and plastics is gaining momentum after a team of researchers at McMaster University and computational chemistry experts at Copenhagen’s Danish Technical University uncovered precisely how the process works and where it bogs down. The researchers set out to resolve why synthetic materials that have been shown to catalyze and convert carbon dioxide break down too quickly for the process to be practical at an industrial level.
Using extremely powerful magnification equipment at the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy (CCEM) on McMaster’s campus, the researchers were able to capture the chemical reaction at nanoscale — billionths of a metre — allowing them to study both the conversion process and understand how the catalyst breaks down under operating conditions. Higgins, a corresponding author of the paper, newly published in the journal Nature Communications, hopes the new information will facilitate the global effort to reduce carbon pollution by drawing carbon dioxide away from waste streams and instead recycling it to create useful products that would otherwise be produced from fossil fuels.
Industries such as cement manufacturing, brewing and distilling, as well as chemical refineries produce high volumes of readily retrievable carbon dioxide, Higgins explains, making them likely first targets for rolling out the technology once it is improved to the point where it is commercially viable. Other less concentrated forms of CO2 in industrial waste would come next. Though it’s a longshot today, Higgins says it’s possible the same technology could become efficient and stable enough to pull carbon dioxide from ambient air as “feedstock” for fuel and useful chemicals.
Source: McMaster University
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