A new catalyst can turn carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide into methane.
Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is at an all-time high, and it’s not enough for us to simply stop emitting more. In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we’ll have to start taking lots of CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it someplace.
One group of scientists from Paris Diderot University believe they’ve found a way to do that, by inventing a catalyst that can turn CO2 into methane. Their new catalyst could be used either to create new fuels to burn—recycling the CO2 already in the air—or by turning the CO2 into a chemical that’s easier to store.
The catalyst the researchers discovered is similar to the chlorophyll in a plant, only instead of turning CO2 into oxygen it turns it into methane. The molecule uses energy from the sun to break up the CO2 molecule into carbon and oxygen atoms, which then combine with hydrogen to form methane and water.
The team was initially trying to turn CO2 into carbon monoxide, which is easier and more commonly done. They succeeded, but noticed their catalyst was also producing methane. After a series of experiments they realized that not only could their catalyst turn CO2 into carbon monoxide, it could then turn that carbon monoxide into methane.
This is useful because right now there are many different catalysts that can produce carbon monoxide from CO2, but pure carbon monoxide isn’t useful for much. The new catalyst can turn an otherwise useless gas into something far more useful.
The researchers still have a long way to go before their new catalyst is used commercially. The team hopes to make the process faster and more efficient by powering it directly with electricity instead of simply exposing it to sunlight, and chain it to a different catalyst that can produce the necessary carbon monoxide.
If this catalyst can become even slightly more efficient, in the near future we could be producing cheap methane literally out of thin air.
Source: Ars Technica
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.