Washington: Researchers have developed a chemical system that can efficiently perform the first step in the process of creating syngas, gasoline and other energy-rich products out of carbon dioxide.
A novel "co-catalyst" system using inexpensive, easy to fabricate carbon-based nano-fiber materials efficiently converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, a useful starting-material for synthesizing fuels.
"I believe this can open a new field for the design of inexpensive and efficient catalytic systems for the many researchers already working with these easily manipulated advanced carbon materials," Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and principal investigator on the study, said.
Although reducing carbon dioxide is a two-step process, chemists had commonly used a single catalyst, Salehi-Khojin said. He and his colleagues experimented with using different catalysts for each step.
In previous work, Salehi-Khojin used an ionic liquid to catalyze the first step of the reaction, and silver for the final reduction to carbon monoxide. The co-catalyst system was more efficient than single-catalyst carbon dioxide reduction systems, he said.
The researchers tried a common structural material, carbon nano-fibers, which was doped with nitrogen, as a substitute for silver to catalyze the second step.
When these carbon materials are used as catalysts, the doping atoms, most often nitrogen, drive the reduction reaction. But, through careful study of this particular reaction, the researchers found that it was not the nitrogen that was the catalyst.
Bijandra Kumar, UIC research scholar and the other first-author of the paper, said the team "uncovered the hidden mechanism" of the co-catalyzed reaction, which has "opened up a lot of options for designing inexpensive and efficient catalyst system for carbon dioxide conversion."
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.