Graphene is known as a Swiss Army knife of materials courtesy us versatility and ever expanding applications. From medicine to electronics, the material has made its name, and now this miracle material has come up with another unique and possibly revolutionary use. Researchers from Rice University have tapped into graphene’s electricity-wielding capabilities, and they claim it can now convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into liquid fuels.
Researchers have created an electrocatalyst called nanometer nitrogen-doped graphene quantum dots (NGQDs), which can turn CO2 electro-reduction into high-energy liquid fuels comprising of ethylene and ethanol. The entire process has been described in a study published in Nature Communications. Lead researcher Pulickel Ajayan said,
“Carbon is typically not a catalyst”
Graphene consists of carbon, so adding nitrogen atoms into the graphene dots trigger chemical reactions inducing electric current and carbon dioxide. But there still is a bit of mystery around exactly how it works.
“So it’s been a puzzle, and though people have written a lot of papers in the last five to 10 years on doped and defective carbon being catalytic, the puzzle is not really solved,” said Ajavan.
NGQDs is comparable in performance with copper when it comes to being a good electrocatalyst. But it goes a step ahead as it can also reduce the level of released CO2 by 90%, along with converting 45% of it into small amounts of ethylene and ethanol, which can be sustained for a substantial amount of time.
CHALLENGES FOR THE FUEL KIT
The process is still under exploration and commercialization of such a product will require a lot of effort, but NGQDs are worth the trouble since they could give us a clean and cheap alternative to fuel source leading to a variety of useful applications in the future.
“I think what we found is fundamentally interesting, because it provides an efficient pathway to screen new types of catalysts to convert carbon dioxide to higher-value products,” Ajayan said.
NGQDs will face difficulties in convincing the industry to switch from thermal catalysis to electrocatalysis to create fuel, which are currently being used since they scale better.
“For that reason, companies probably won’t use it any time soon for large-scale production,” said Ajayan. “But electrocatalysis can be easily done in the lab, and we showed it will be useful in the development of new catalysts.”