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Wed Oct 19, 2016, 02:52 AM

Nano-spike catalysts convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol

October 12, 2016
Nano-spike catalysts convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol
ORNL's Yang Song (seated), Dale Hensley (standing left) and Adam Rondinone examine a carbon nanospike sample with a scanning electron microscope. Credit: ORNL

In a new twist to waste-to-fuel technology, scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. Their finding, which involves nanofabrication and catalysis science, was serendipitous.

"We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked," said ORNL's Adam Rondinone, lead author of the team's study published in ChemistrySelect. "We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own."

The team used a catalyst made of carbon, copper and nitrogen and applied voltage to trigger a complicated chemical reaction that essentially reverses the combustion process. With the help of the nanotechnology-based catalyst which contains multiple reaction sites, the solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63 percent. Typically, this type of electrochemical reaction results in a mix of several different products in small amounts.

"We're taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we're pushing that combustion reaction backwards with very high selectivity to a useful fuel," Rondinone said. "Ethanol was a surprise—it's extremely difficult to go straight from carbon dioxide to ethanol with a single catalyst."


This could be a very big deal. First the CO2 levels are off the charts literally, and may kill us all in 20 to 100 years. Ethanol is very useful directly as a fuel, but there are also fuel cells (DEFC) that can convert ethanol directly into electricity. We had some of these in the Fuel cell college class I taught, and we even used some "Moonshine" (bottled locally) to run them. Making something useful (and valuable) is the best chance at making some sort of stab at reducing CO2 levels.

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Reply Nano-spike catalysts convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol (Original post)
mackdaddy Oct 2016 OP
SeattleVet Oct 2016 #1

Response to mackdaddy (Original post)

Wed Oct 19, 2016, 03:52 AM

1. Work done at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee...

Why doesn't this surprise me?

My father was from Tennessee, and we used to spend summers at the family farm in (very) rural Eastern Tennessee. (You went along the road until the pavement ended, then followed the gravel and dirt road for another few miles. I was 12 before they got an indoor bathroom.)

From personal experience, I can tell you that a lot of the folks in TN are extremely adept at making ethanol. We used to get it by the Mason jar full from a friend of the family around the mountain, and they were starting out with nothing but some corn.

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