Scientists show a single catalyst can perform the first step of turning CO2 into fuel in two very different ways

Their work aims to bridge two approaches to driving the reaction – one powered by heat, the other by electricity – with the goal of discovering more efficient and sustainable ways to convert carbon dioxide into useful products.

Peer-Reviewed Publication

DOE/SLAC NATIONAL ACCELERATOR LABORATORY

One catalyst, two very different paths for turning CO2 to fuel
IMAGE: HIS ILLUSTRATION SHOWS ONE OF THE ACTIVE SITES OF A NEW CATALYST THAT ACCELERATES THE FIRST STEP IN MAKING FUELS AND USEFUL CHEMICALS FROM CARBON DIOXIDE. THE ACTIVE SITES CONSIST OF NICKEL ATOMS (GREEN) BONDED TO NITROGEN ATOMS (BLUE) AND SCATTERED THROUGHOUT A CARBON MATERIAL (GRAY). SLAC AND STANFORD RESEARCHERS DISCOVERED THAT THIS CATALYST, CALLED NIPACN, WORKS IN REACTIONS DRIVEN BY HEAT OR ELECTRICITY – AN IMPORTANT STEP TOWARD UNIFYING THE UNDERSTANDING OF CATALYTIC REACTIONS IN THESE TWO VERY DIFFERENT REACTION ENVIRONMENTS. view more 
CREDIT: GREG STEWART/SLAC NATIONAL ACCELERATOR LABORATORY

Virtually all chemical and fuel production relies on catalysts, which accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed in the process. Most of these reactions take place in huge reactor vessels and may require high temperatures and pressures.

Scientists have been working on alternative ways to drive these reactions with electricity, rather than heat. This could potentially allow cheap, efficient, distributed manufacturing powered by renewable sources of electricity.

But researchers who specialize in these two approaches – heat versus electricity – tend to work independently, developing different types of catalysts tailored to their specific reaction environments.

A new line of research aims to change that. Scientists at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory reported today that they have made a new catalyst that works with either heat or electricity. Based on nickel atoms, the catalyst accelerates a reaction for turning carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide – the first step in making fuels and useful chemicals from CO2.

The results represent an important step toward unifying the understanding of catalytic reactions in these two very different conditions with distinct driving forces at play, said Thomas Jaramillo, professor at SLAC and Stanford and director of the SUNCAT Institute for Interface Science and Catalysis, where the research took place.

“This is a rarity in our field,” he said. “The fact that we could bring it together in one framework to look at the same material is what makes this work special, and it opens up a whole new avenue to look at catalysts in a much broader way.”

The results also explain how the new catalyst drives this key reaction faster when used in an electrochemical reactor, the research team said. Their report appeared in the print edition of Angewandte Chemie this week. 

Toward a sustainable chemistry future

Finding ways to transform CO2 into chemicals, fuels, and other products, from methanol to plastics and synthetic natural gas, is a major focus of SUNCAT research. If done on a large scale using renewable energy, it could create market incentives for recycling the greenhouse gas. This will require a new generation of catalysts and processes to carry out these transformations cheaply and efficiently on an industrial scale – and making those discoveries will require new ideas.

In search of some new directions, SUNCAT formed a team of PhD students involving three research groups in the chemical engineering department at Stanford: Sindhu Nathan from Professor Stacey Bent’s group, whose research focuses on heat-driven catalytic reactions, and David Koshy, who is co-advised by Jaramillo and Professor Zhenan Bao and has been focusing on electrochemical reactions.

Nathan’s work has been aimed at understanding heat-driven catalytic reactions at a fundamental, atomic level.

“Heat-driven reactions are what’s commonly used in industry now,” she said. “And for some reactions, a heat-driven process would be challenging to implement because it may require very high temperatures ­­and pressures to get the desired reaction to proceed.”

Driving reactions with electricity could make some transformations more efficient, Koshy said,  “because you don’t have to heat things up, and you can also make reactors and other components smaller, cheaper and more modular ­– plus it’s a good way to take advantage of renewable resources.”

Scientists who study these two types of reactions work in parallel and rarely interact, so they don’t have many opportunities to gain insights from each other that might help them design more effective catalysts.

But if the two camps could work on the same catalyst, it would establish a basis for unifying their understanding of reaction mechanisms in both environments, Jaramillo said. “We had theoretical reasons to think that the same catalyst would work in both sets of reaction conditions,” he said, “but this idea had not been tested.”

A new avenue for catalyst discovery

For their experiments, the team chose a catalyst Koshy recently synthesized called NiPACN. The active parts of the catalyst – the places where it grabs passing molecules, gets them to react and releases the products – consist of individual nickel atoms bonded to nitrogen atoms that are scattered throughout the carbon material. Koshy’s research had already determined that NiPACN can drive certain electrochemical reactions with high efficiency. Could it do the same under thermal conditions?

To answer this question, the team took the powdered catalyst to SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). They worked with Distinguished Staff Scientist Simon Bare to develop a tiny reactor where the catalyst could expedite a reaction between hydrogen and carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressure. The setup allowed them to shine X-rays into the reaction through a window and watch the reaction proceed.

In particular, they wanted to see if the harsh conditions inside the reactor changed the catalyst as it facilitated the reaction between hydrogen and CO2.

“People might say, how do you know the atomic structure didn’t change, making this a slightly different catalyst than the one we had previously tested in electrochemical reactions?” Koshy said. “We had to show that the nickel reaction centers still look the same when the reaction is finished.”

That’s exactly what they found when they examined the catalyst in atomic detail before and after the reaction with X-rays and transmission electron microscopy.

Going forward, the research team wrote, studies like this one will be essential for unifying the study of catalytic phenomena across reaction environments, which will ultimately bolster efforts to discover new catalysts for transforming the fuel and chemical industries.

Parts of this study were carried out at the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities, the Canadian Center for Electron Microscopy and the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS) at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. CNMS and SSRL are DOE Office of Science user facilities. Major funding came from the DOE Office of Science, including support from the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a DOE Energy Innovation Hub.

Citation: David M. Koshy et al., Angewandte Chemie, 6 April 2021 (10.1002/anie.202101326)

SLAC is a vibrant multiprogram laboratory that explores how the universe works at the biggest, smallest and fastest scales and invents powerful tools used by scientists around the globe. With research spanning particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology, materials, chemistry, bio- and energy sciences and scientific computing, we help solve real-world problems and advance the interests of the nation.

SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.


JOURNAL

Angewandte Chemie

DOI

10.1002/anie.202101326

METHOD OF RESEARCH

Experimental study

SUBJECT OF RESEARCH

Not applicable

ARTICLE TITLE

Bridging Thermal Catalysis and Electrocatalysis: Catalyzing CO2 Conversion with Carbon-Based Materials

ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE

6-Apr-2021

COI STATEMENT

No conflict declared

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Intelligent Dasein
August 8, 2021 2:45 am

This is one of those things that could be bad if it actually works. Imagine industry consuming so much CO2 from the atmosphere that it reverses the greening of the Earth and starves the rest of the biosphere. This is something I was afraid of, actually.

Last edited 5 months ago by Intelligent Dasein
Vuk
Reply to  Intelligent Dasein
August 8, 2021 3:07 am

Burn fuel release CO2, synthesise CO2 into fuel, burn fuel release CO2 …. ad infinitum It’s nonsense, conservation of energy, entropy and such things are important, let’s see the energy transfer efficiency equation.

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 4:18 am

Precisely Vuk, Where Is The Energy to power this coming from?

In any case, once (hopefully) when we discover:

  • why thermometers seem to be twitching
  • realise the difference between ‘heavy rain’ and ‘flood
  • realise that plants need a lot more than CO2
  • how to rejuvenate desert and depleted/eroded farmland

AND actually do something about it, there will be a global shortage of atmospheric CO2
If we act appropriately (i.e. move to save our own extinction via Soil Erosion) – we will find ourselves worrying about Peak Limestone/Chalk and how to stuff it into nuclear kilns fast enough to maintain an atmospheric level above 250ppm – never mind 350dotorg muppets

Vuk
Reply to  Peta of Newark
August 8, 2021 4:44 am

… but, but Tonto Boris might buy it along with many crazy things he has embraced.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 5:26 am

Yes, kemosabe, that’s the idea.

Robert of Ottawa
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 8:03 am

… like his wife

Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  Peta of Newark
August 8, 2021 9:30 am

Excellent points all. As to your question “[w]here Is The Energy to power this coming from?”. Renewables, obviously.

Richard G.
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
August 8, 2021 10:28 am

China is approaching deployment of LFTR Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors. (Because the US nuclear power industry has been subservient to the arms industry.) We have been navel gazing, fixated on the dreaded CO2.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
August 9, 2021 3:49 am

Don’t worry, peak limestone/chalk is never going to happen 😉

There is more CO2 sequestered in the limestone rocks on Earth than there is CO2 gas in the atmosphere of Venus, and a lot of that limestone here is readily accessible.

On my first visit to Switzerland, driving from France and on into Italy, I was amazed at the extent of the fringe of limestone rocks that surround the core of the Alpine fold mountain belt.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 4:38 am

yes. and there is always more CO2 available from turning limestone into lime..as part of the process of making concrete…or as part of the process of turning barley into beer!

Scissor
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 5:15 am

Yes, chemical transformation of CO2 to fuel is endothermic, i.e., it consumes energy.

Richard Patton
Reply to  Scissor
August 8, 2021 1:34 pm

And where is the energy going to come from? Burning more fossil fuels!!!!

They burn fossil fuels to provide enough energy to convert CO2 (created by burning fossil fuels) back into fuel. Ponzi scheme anyone?

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Richard Patton
August 8, 2021 3:58 pm

Not necessarily. KMS Fusion patented chemical energy storage of energy directly provided by nuclear reactions (their goal was fusion, but fission was equally usable), without prior conversion to electricity. Neutrons, in particular, were useful for radiolytically converting carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen without raising the temperature of the gaseous feedstock. It required only 1% of the CO2 to be so converted to provide a high-density, pipeline transportable “fuel”, which would then be reacted with itself to provide heat (for any purpose) at the destination.

KMS’s treasure trove of patents is astonishing. Worth a Google search, and many hours to see what gold they had.

I got a tour of their facility in Ann Arbor, MI, while researching an article on fusion back in the 1970s. It was the only time I’ve ever taken a very long walk through the amplifier section of a giant laser.

Last edited 5 months ago by Michael S. Kelly
JamesD
Reply to  Scissor
August 9, 2021 9:56 am

It’s actually highly exothermic. Called a methanation reactor. But you consume a heck of a lot of hydrogen.

Tom
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 5:22 am

What is an energy transfer efficiency equation? Can you post an example?

Vuk
Reply to  Tom
August 8, 2021 7:07 am

You can find 101 example on web educational pages.
Simple: Qout = Qin – Qloss, or  
Qout = k * Qin  where k is efficiency factor always <1.
For a vehicle internal combustion engine k = ~ 0.3
For steam turbine  k = ~0.4
For an electric motor is k = ~ 0.9 +
For an electric generator k = ~ 0.95
For best lithium ion battery k = ~ 0.95
For a VL AM electric transformer k = ~ 0.99
and that is about as high as you can get, excluding perpetuum mobile, of course.
 

Willem Post
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 1:13 pm

But,
Of course.
The article is nonsense.
It was likely written by a PR person, or worse, without checking with scientists.

AndyHce
Reply to  Vuk
August 8, 2021 5:36 pm

energy efficiency considerations aren’t part of the green universe

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  Intelligent Dasein
August 8, 2021 11:13 am

Your concerns are unfounded junk. Just like most of the Climate Scam.

The oceans will compensate any rapid changes.
It’s Le Chatelier’s Principle stuff.

Le Chatelier’s principle states that if a dynamic equilibrium is disturbed by changing the conditions, the position of equilibrium shifts to counteract the change to reestablish an equilibrium.

Last edited 5 months ago by joelobryan
Bill Powers
Reply to  Intelligent Dasein
August 8, 2021 12:03 pm

The yin and yang of the universe. Unfortunately for every yen leading to yang the law of unintended consequence delivers unpleasant yin. “Be Careful What You Wish For…”

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  Intelligent Dasein
August 8, 2021 10:10 pm

It’s a good thing that there are so many billionaires promoting rockets and space travel these days.

If anyone tries to filter all the CO2 out of the atmosphere, Musk or Branson or Bezos or someone will likely step up and launch so many rockets for one project or another that this in itself will replenish the whole system.

(that’s a <sarc>, in case you were wondering)

Alexy Scherbakoff
August 8, 2021 2:57 am

Laboratory scale nonsense.

Scissor
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
August 8, 2021 5:24 am

There is nothing wrong with the fundamental study. Where it goes wrong is the crafting of the narrative toward some political end. Maybe something useful will come out of this, maybe not.

Practically speaking, nickel as a catalyst is highly susceptible to sulfur poisoning and it is prone to form nickel carbonyl under certain condition which usually results in metal migration from the fact that the highly toxic carbonyl is volatile.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Scissor
August 8, 2021 6:35 am

In an academic sense maybe – but it remains another non-solution to an imaginary “problem,” that being the supposed “need” to reduce atmospheric CO2, which we are not in control of in any event.

Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
August 8, 2021 9:32 am

But their process turns the CO2 into, among other things, methane. This is good because?

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
August 9, 2021 3:11 am

It’s a more potent greehouse gas. /s

Jeffery P
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
August 9, 2021 1:00 pm

We can burn methane as fuel. Methane is the primary component of natural gas. Methane can be be converted into propane as well. Not saying it’s economical, just it can be done.

Alexy Scherbakoff
Reply to  Scissor
August 8, 2021 5:49 pm

They use nickel catalysts for making margarine. I imagine carbonyl is not an issue in that circumstance.

Curious George(@moudryj)
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
August 8, 2021 8:07 am

It is a research into how a catalyst works. A woke Public Relations person turned it into a scientifically impossible nonsense.

Richard Patton
Reply to  Curious George
August 8, 2021 1:37 pm

If that is indeed the case, then the researchers are close to beating in the brains of the PR person responsible for all the ridicule directed at them.

Ron Long
August 8, 2021 3:14 am

This never fails to amaze me, the current fad environmentalists are against the food for our brothers and sisters the plants. Against greening of the earth (agree with Intelligent above), or inexplicably against trading greening of the earth for possibly a couple degrees of warming. Follow the money? And political control?

B Clarke
August 8, 2021 3:23 am

First thoughts on this, would not if it ever got out of the lab, be drawing even more from the bank of intermittent energy, we can’t produce enough now, and of course its intermittent.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  B Clarke
August 8, 2021 6:36 am

The “bank of intermittent energy” was bankrupt from the start.

Jeffery P
Reply to  B Clarke
August 9, 2021 1:01 pm

Build a small nuclear plant to power it. You can get both heat and electricity that way.

Rusty
August 8, 2021 3:24 am

The equivalent of trying to invent a perpetual motion machine.

fretslider
Reply to  Rusty
August 8, 2021 3:49 am

To go with the perpetual propaganda.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Rusty
August 8, 2021 6:10 am

It’s another in a long line of “solutions” to the intermittency problem, destined to fail.

The theory is that you get wind and solar often at times when you don’t have demand, so instead of ramping down dispatchable generation that demand-follows, you ramp up consumption that supply-follows.

They are reversing the water-gas shift reaction. They need to produce hydrogen first, likely by electrolysis. Presumably that would also supply-follow. You then get CO that you can combine with more H2 to make syngas, and then CH4 and H2O from the syngas.

When the intermittent sources stop, you burn the methane (aka “synthetic natural gas”) in a gas turbine.

It’s not perpetual motion. This can be done. The problem is that it will be absurdly expensive to do it.

Each process is inefficient to some degree, the input energy to make your synthetic ‘natural’ gas will probably be many multiples of the output electricity you get when burning the methane in a gas turbine.

Btw I do hope that their synthetic natural gas will also be gluten-free and non-GMO!

Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  Rich Davis
August 8, 2021 9:35 am

But, as you propose, the input energy is excess to needs, and would be wasted anyway. So this process could run for, say, 4 minutes? (California was 100% renewable some time ago, for 4 minutes.)

And burning that methane better not produce any CO2, or else the only perpetual thing here is CO2 being produced to be catalyzed into methane to produce CO2.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
August 8, 2021 11:20 am

The premise would seem to be that there will be so much intermittent power, that despite maybe a 10% overall efficiency, you’ll still have built up so much methane that it can keep the lights on through a cold, windless night or 16.

They are in fact proposing that this process “recycles” the CO2 perpetually, with the sun providing the energy.

A very good example of how something can be technically possible, but utterly impractical from an economic perspective.

AndyHce
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
August 8, 2021 5:50 pm

“for 4 minutes”
I believe that was 4 seconds

AndyHce
Reply to  Rich Davis
August 8, 2021 5:50 pm

But when the susidy wagon has unloaded 10 or 20 times the nameplate generation capacity of wind and/or solar, sometimes that huge overbuild will work at near full capacity factor, making much more electricity than can be used. This is already the case in various places like California, Scotland, Germany, and others. The Green dream is to use that excess to prepare for the time generation is near zero. The question then becomes: is some method available that cost less than the trillions of bucks for batteries

Stephen Philbrick
Reply to  Rusty
August 8, 2021 8:03 am

Why are there so many comments talking about the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine? There is virtually nothing in the original article suggesting anything of the kind. They specifically talked about the need to provide energy for these conversions. The key point of the article appears to be that they can use electricity or heat.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Stephen Philbrick
August 8, 2021 11:27 am

I’ve made that correction repeatedly Stephan. I suspect most such commenters are gobsmacked by the utter absurdity of putting more energy back into CO2 than came out when some fuel was burned, just to get back to having some fuel to burn.

But you need to acknowledge that the idea of storing solar energy this way can at best result in absurdly expensive power.

AndyHce
Reply to  Rich Davis
August 8, 2021 5:52 pm

But, what if it were significantly less expensive than batteries or mechanical storage?

Rich Davis
Reply to  AndyHce
August 8, 2021 6:31 pm

I don’t see how that would be likely. There have to be significant losses in every stage of the process. If you try to do it in a distributed way, there are huge capital costs. If you try to do it centrally there are still grid transmission costs and all the same process losses. And just because it might be cheaper than batteries doesn’t mean it’s competitive with fossil fuels—even with carbon capture.

David Dibbell
August 8, 2021 3:37 am

So we need not think of CO2 as a pollutant but as a starting material for catalyzed synthesis. Interesting. Do the plants of the world know about this?

Scissor
Reply to  David Dibbell
August 8, 2021 5:32 am

It’s amazing what plants are able to produce from CO2 directly using sunlight without the need for high temperature and pressure.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Scissor
August 8, 2021 6:37 am

Or “catalysts!”

Scissor
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
August 8, 2021 8:00 am

I would add “artificial” catalysts to your statement.

Chlorophyll is a natural catalyst and plants (and animals) use enzymes, which are certainly catalysts.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Scissor
August 8, 2021 10:23 pm

Actually, the catalyst is the enzyme RubisCo (Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase-oxygenase), not chlorophyll. Chlorophyll supplies RuBisCo in the photosystem reaction center with protons in the form of NADPH generated by the absorption of sunlight. The energy stored in NADPH powers the enzymatic process that converts CO2 to glycerate. RuBisCo uses magnesium (Mg) in its active site.

This process is perhaps 3.4 billion years old, although the most significant photosynthesizers are blue-green algae, thought to be 2.5 byo. That’s when free oxygen first became a major component of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Stanford and SLAC scientists are reinventing a very old wheel. but don’t tell them. Their funding might dry up.

fretslider
August 8, 2021 3:45 am

cheap, efficient, distributed manufacturing powered by renewable sources of electricity.

They are having a laugh, right?

Cheap energy in the UK? Dream on

Last edited 5 months ago by fretslider
Rich Davis
Reply to  fretslider
August 8, 2021 6:25 am

Yes, I noticed the word ‘distributed’ thrown in there—that’s where you can really explode the costs. Imagine that each wind and solar farm needs to have electrolysis, compressors and storage tanks for hydrogen, a reactor for CO production, also needing compressors and storage tanks, then another reactor for the syngas producing methane, which needs compressors and storage tanks, and then a gas turbine. All components subject to wear and tear, requiring routine maintenance and replacement.

“Cheap and efficient”!

Last edited 5 months ago by Rich Davis
Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  Rich Davis
August 8, 2021 9:37 am

But these guys are scientists. They leave the engineering to other, lesser, mortals.

Steve Richards
August 8, 2021 4:14 am

It is always good (usually) to do basic research that can increase our knowledge and understand how things work in fine detail aka at the quantum level.

However, the research raised the CO2 and climate change joker card I suspect, to ensure funding.

If they find what they say they want to find – CO2 to fuel, they will need to co-locate windfarms onsite with coal and gas fired electrical generators.

As above, how will they get anything positive from this?

AndyHce
Reply to  Steve Richards
August 8, 2021 5:54 pm

Not if they get the subsidized billions to build enough long distance transmission lines

ValleyBoy
August 8, 2021 4:21 am

From a laymans point of view I think this sounds pretty neat. Alchemy, Merlin, Harry Potter sort of stuff. Perhaps it will apply to other processes. Just an opinion. Over my pay grade.

August 8, 2021 4:23 am

Perpetuum mobile is impossible, you can’t get more energy out than you put in.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Hans Erren
August 8, 2021 6:36 am

But it’s not perpetual motion. The energy is from the sun (whether PV or wind). Their idea is to have a big surplus of intermittent electricity that is mostly wasted on process heat, but that produces enough methane to run a gas turbine when the unreliables are underproducing vs demand.

It’s an elaborate chemical energy storage scheme.

Stephen Philbrick
Reply to  Hans Erren
August 8, 2021 8:04 am

?? Why are you bringing this up? Nothing to do with the article.

Reply to  Stephen Philbrick
August 8, 2021 9:36 am

No mater how efficient your catalyst is, you still need LOTS of energy to convert CO2 to fuel.

AndyHce
Reply to  Stephen Philbrick
August 8, 2021 5:55 pm

Certainly it is what the article is about!

Leo Smith
August 8, 2021 4:36 am

renewable schmooable
they just drop the phrase in to get funding
…and heat pe se is not an issue, properly inuslatred a reaction vesel doesnt take energy to stay hot.
stripping all te fashionable buzz words out, its a small but handy addition to our knowledge.

decnine
Reply to  Leo Smith
August 8, 2021 6:02 am

properly inuslatred a reaction vesel doesnt take energy to stay hot”

Oh yes it does – if the reaction concerned is endothermic – as this one is…in Spades.

NavarreAggie
August 8, 2021 4:41 am

Kind of reminds of how we’ve been hearing for 20 years that large increases in photovoltaic efficiency were on the horizon, yet they never seem to appear.

Until I see a detailed thermodynamic analysis showing how this makes ANY sense from an energy standpoint, I’ll toss it in the same bin as “hydrogen economy.”

Rich Davis
Reply to  NavarreAggie
August 8, 2021 6:50 am

It doesn’t make economic sense in any scenario other than the fantasy world in which you need to avoid extinction by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Even then, there are probably cheaper ways to do that, starting with carbon capture & sequestration (CCS) and just letting the biosphere draw down CO2.

In some millions of years far-distant future where fossil fuels, uranium, and thorium are all depleted, and fusion is of course just forty years away, why would you use such a capital-intensive process when you could just burn biomass?

Captain climate
August 8, 2021 4:46 am

We’ve been reading about magical catalysts for decades now, and yet simply planting trees already does what you need.

David Cox
August 8, 2021 4:48 am

“Finding ways to transform CO2 into chemicals, fuels, and other products, from methanol to plastics and synthetic natural gas, is a major focus of SUNCAT research.”

May I suggest using chlorophyll? Or is there no patent value in growing plants?

AndyHce
Reply to  David Cox
August 8, 2021 5:57 pm

That is another area of active research, how to make a synthetic for use in industry that works as well as chlorophyll

David Cox
Reply to  AndyHce
August 9, 2021 4:29 am

Development of naturally available materials to obtain products more efficiently has been the goal of the chemical, pharmaceutical, farming and other industries. Essentially the intent is to be more successful both technically and commercially.
Here development of a catalyst to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into more complex chemicals via carbon monoxide has to compete with existing and often very efficient processes based on plants, essentially using chlorophyll to carry out the primary catalytic job to generate chemical plant feedstocks.
With farmed products, i.e. chlorophyll based, processes already exist that use the feedstocks – both anaerobic and aerobic fermentation for example, and many examples in the food industry. Products from these processes can lead to the products SUNCAT’s research targets.
Furthermore farmed products are already available in large quantities.
An efficient catalyst to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide would yield a chemically usable feedstock, but could it compete either commercially or technically on a large scale with the plant sugars generated by chlorophyll? I would doubt it!

August 8, 2021 5:01 am

“Turn CO2 into fuel”

Someone got there first, with the Rubisco protein and photosynthesis, 3 billion or so years ago.

Thomas Gasloli
August 8, 2021 5:30 am

“… if done on large scale with renewable energy…”

Yah, it could happen🤪

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Thomas Gasloli
August 8, 2021 6:39 am

After they actually invent “energy” that is actually “renewable.”

AGW is Not Science
August 8, 2021 6:08 am

Based on nickel atoms, the catalyst accelerates a reaction for turning carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide – the first step in making fuels and useful chemicals from CO2.

Great. So we’ve now mastered the art of turning plant food into poison. Why don’t they just remove the catalytic converter from gasoline powered cars and capture all that good old CO from the exhaust – you know, the whole reason for the catalytic converter, first required on most gasoline engines in the 1970s, in the first place – to turn CO into harmless CO2 and water vapor.

Oh, and P.S. Where’s the nickel coming from?! More mining, using more fossil fuels I’m sure.

If done on a large scale using renewable energy, it could create market incentives for recycling the greenhouse gas.

“Renewable energy” can’t even supply electricity reliably and consistently enough to be useful, and requires the destruction of vast tracts of land, so this is a bad idea piled atop another bad idea. As for the “greenhouse gas,” it is NOT the cause of any “problem,” and the plants will “recycle” it nicely into wood, food, and other flora. We don’t need to “create” any “market incentives” to “recycle” CO2, this is just another wealth transfer scheme and avenue for government control, another non-solution to the imaginary “crisis.”

Driving reactions with electricity could make some transformations more efficient, Koshy said, “because you don’t have to heat things up, and you can also make reactors and other components smaller, cheaper and more modular ­– plus it’s a good way to take advantage of renewable resources.

SMH! Renewable energy is NOT A RESOURCE! It is 100% dependent on fossil fuels.

I also have to laugh at the “smaller, cheaper and more modular” reactors and “other components,” all (supposedly) “powered” (NOT!) by vast acreage festooned with worse-than-useless windmills and solar panels.

Please, please, PLEASE stop trying to find new ways to “market” the colossally BAD idea of “wind and solar ‘power'” that nobody would give you a nickel for without the government trying to shove it down people’s throats!

Rich Davis
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
August 8, 2021 7:11 am

Nice rant! And yes, there is already a recycling process for CO2 called plant life. Works like a charm.

But maybe they’re really planning ahead. After all the fossil fuels are depleted, and the uranium, and the thorium, and the earth is no longer tectonically active, eliminating subduction of carbonate rock, and then CO2 falls below 150ppm and all the plant life goes extinct, and fusion power is just 40 years away, then this technology’s time will come!

AndyHce
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
August 8, 2021 5:59 pm

All those billions of internal combustion vehicles with their catalytic converts use precious metals catalysts.

Dave-E
August 8, 2021 6:13 am

Since CO2 is plant food not a pollutant, call me crazy, but I see no reason to trust climate change masterminds intent on finding ways to remove it from the atmosphere in the name of Gaia.

Reply to  Dave-E
August 8, 2021 7:05 am

All of us in the 800 Club (advocates of 800ppm CO2) oppose this scheme…plants love CO2 and we in the 800 Club love plants…..plants may have feelings…may feel pain.

Last edited 5 months ago by Anti_griff
Rod Evans
August 8, 2021 6:23 am

Let me know when they have something newsworthy to report.

MarkW
Reply to  Rod Evans
August 8, 2021 6:31 am

Learning more about how the catalytic process works is newsworthy. Catalysts are used in all kinds of industries.

MarkW
August 8, 2021 6:26 am

The realists will reject it because we realize there is no need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
The alarmists will reject it because it isn’t painful enough.

Loren C. Wilson
August 8, 2021 6:53 am

We already have the most efficient catalyst for turning CO2 into fuel. It is chlorophyll. It has been developed by Mother Nature for billions of years, and only requires visible light, water, and CO2. The results are oxygen and food. No nasty biproducts unless you don’t like lima beans.

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Loren C. Wilson
August 8, 2021 1:38 pm

No nasty biproducts unless you don’t like lima beans.

Well, there is tofu…

AndyHce
Reply to  Loren C. Wilson
August 8, 2021 6:01 pm

All those trees, and their cousins, produce beaucoup CO2 every night when the sun isn’t shining.

Andy Pattullo
August 8, 2021 7:14 am

We have plants evolved over billions of years to do exactly this while providing food and energy to all life on Earth!!! What is the scientific argument, including energy transfers and resource consumption, that justifies this effort?

AndyHce
Reply to  Andy Pattullo
August 8, 2021 6:02 pm

and so many critters have legs and feet. Where is the justification for wheels?

Rich Davis
August 8, 2021 7:24 am

Please note: “From YouReekAlot!”

Joao Martins
August 8, 2021 8:23 am

WHAT????

They are “carbon” but they are not fossil???? They produce “good” CO2 when burnt? When they burn, they cool the “climate”?

Last edited 5 months ago by Joao Martins
Smart Rock
August 8, 2021 9:40 am

The “carbon material” in the illustration looks like graphene. Soon to be available in your local hardware store in quantities as large as a microgram.

Pat from kerbob
August 8, 2021 9:45 am

Carbon dioxide IS a useful product

Mark Freeman
August 8, 2021 11:55 am

Can they use the same catalyst to turn lead into gold?

Richard Page
Reply to  Mark Freeman
August 8, 2021 12:54 pm

This research has been about turning a pile of B.S. into grant money so, yes – I think so.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Richard Page
August 8, 2021 1:49 pm

I disagree. There’s no lead involved.

pochas94
August 8, 2021 12:16 pm

This is what plants do all the time. We could burn biomass and recover some of the energy. But we’ve always done that.

August 8, 2021 12:36 pm

CO2 is the product of combustion of carbon and oxygen. You cannot set the products of combustion alight again! Set water on fire and then you will have the secret

Ian Johnson
August 8, 2021 1:00 pm

Reminds me of cold fusion.

David S
August 8, 2021 3:07 pm

Based on nickel atoms, the catalyst accelerates a reaction for turning carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide “

So they have discovered a way to transform a benign and beneficial substance like CO2 into the deadly poison CO. Amazing!

AndyHce
August 8, 2021 5:35 pm

If something that actually works economically at industrial scale were developed, the logical feed stock would be CO2 from power plants. This would tank the promised land of heavily subsidized rent seekers for CO2 sequestration.

Graham
Reply to  AndyHce
August 8, 2021 8:21 pm

This scheme sounds crazy to me but then I am a farmer and not a scientist .
The world already has very efficient ways of turning CO2 into usable fuel and it is very cheap and does not produce any nasty byproducts .
What is it ?
Here in New Zealand we cam grow pine trees continuously on a 26 to 30 year rotation .
We harvest them for timber to build houses and many other things and we make paper and cardboard from them .
The waste is burnt to power the mills and the whole process is a cycle .
Thats good you will say.
That is untill our mentally challenged government gets involved through their sister party the Greens .
These clowns are trying to encourage investors from around the world to purchase productive farmland on our hill country and plant it in pines that will never be harvested .
They are calling this carbon farming !
The investors will be paid very well for the carbon credits for 50 years and then the land will revert to the government .
Great scheme? all the greenies are cheering untill the untended trees die and fall over in storms and then burn during our dry summer weather in 20 to 50 years time .
Instead of producing meat and wool and providing work and income for the regions money from our taxes will flow overseas to investors .
Who ever thought this scheme up must hate farming and New Zealand .
Governments are elected to govern their countries and should be looking after their countries
well being not destroying the economy in the vain hope of saving the world .
This farmland is hilly and in some places quite steep but if well farmed it can gross $1000 New Zealand per hectare in pasture each year which is spent in New Zealand and the processing industries add value as the live stock are processed and shipped overseas to feed millions .
Graham

Ferdberple(@ferdberple)
August 8, 2021 8:22 pm

turning carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide
=======
One more step and you will have produced coal.

For about 100 times what it costs ro dig it out of the ground.

Gregg Eshelman
August 8, 2021 8:23 pm

A catalytic converter for internal combustion engines which uses waste exhaust heat to convert part of the exhaust back to fuel?

PCman999
August 8, 2021 9:01 pm

Some comments mention “perpetual motion machine” in regards to pulling co2 out of the air to make fuel to burn, exhausting co2 out again, with the help of surplus electricity from turbines and panels, that seem to make power when you don’t need it.
I was thinking Rube Goldberg would be more appropriate, because we could just continue using the fuels we are currently using, and let the plants and plankton take care of the CO2. After all, the world has greened by a remarkable 15-20% during just the satellite era and crop yields have grown amazingly.
If one just had ‘to do something for the environment’, then using the intermittent turbines and solar to do carbon capture in old oil wells or to drive the oil sands production (or any other production that could make use of the variable electricity without too much of a hassle).

Steve Z
August 9, 2021 8:19 am

In the illustration at the top of the article, it appears that the dark gray circles represent carbon atoms, the red circles oxygen atoms, but what atom do the small light gray circles represent? It would appear to be hydrogen, so that this catalyst speeds up the reaction

CO2 + H2 –> CO + H2O

This is the reverse of the water-shift reaction, which is the second reaction in steam-methane reforming. Since the water-shift reaction is exothermic, this catalyzed reaction must be endothermic, with the energy input from electricity at least as high as the energy released in the water-shift reaction.

Another question is, where does the hydrogen come from? The two most popular ways of generating hydrogen are steam-methane reforming (which is endothermic) and electrolysis of water, which requires input of electrical energy.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is toxic, and should not be released to the atmosphere, so that something needs to be done with it. If it is burned back to carbon dioxide (CO2), the energy released would be similar to the energy required to run this process, with no net benefit. There are industrial uses for carbon monoxide, but using this process to generate CO probably consumes more energy (in particular, the use of hydrogen) than would be required in other processes used to generate CO (such as incomplete combustion of natural gas in an oxygen-starved atmosphere, or steam-methane reforming without the water-shift reaction).

Other than the production of CO for industrial use, there is no net value to this process.

JamesD
August 9, 2021 9:54 am

Where’s the hydrogen coming from? So burn massive amount of fuel to reform methane to syngas. Take the hydrogen and combine it with the CO2 from the shift reactor and make CO. Yeah, that make sense.

You could just make syngas and call it good.

Dennis
August 9, 2021 11:28 am

Here we go again …………”please send money to help us learn how to turn prune juice into Gasoline” we think we can, possibly , hopefully, perhaps, maybe so, you betcha!

Jeffery P
August 9, 2021 12:53 pm

Assuming they can scale this up for practical use, just wait until the warmers go apoplectic over it. The warmers fight tooth-and-nail against mitigation. They want reduction in emissions because they determined years ago that fossil fuels are destroying. So emitting carbon for plant A and recycling it at plant B just won’t fly.

These aren’t reasonable people. Facts and logic do no dissuade them.

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