Scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have synthesized a catalyst that improves their system for converting waste carbon dioxide into syngas. Syngas can be a precursor of gasoline and other energy-rich products with the UIC work bringing the process closer to commercial viability.

The team’s study was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 30.

Your humble writer has watching this group for some years now and admires that they grasp the concept of “more better and cheaper”.

UICs Professor Amin Salehi-Khojin. Click image for the largest view.  Image Credit: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin.

UICs Professor Amin Salehi-Khojin. Click image for the largest view. Image Credit: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin.

Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering said, “Our whole purpose is to move from laboratory experiments to real-world applications. This is a real breakthrough that can take a waste gas – carbon dioxide – and use inexpensive catalysts to produce another source of energy at large-scale, while making a healthier environment.”

Salehi-Khojin, principal investigator on the study and his coworkers have developed a unique two-step catalytic process that uses molybdenum disulfide, the often used metallic friction agent, and an ionic liquid to “reduce,” or transfer electrons, to carbon dioxide in a chemical reaction. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost by replacing expensive metals like gold or silver in the reduction reaction.

Mohammad Asadi, UIC graduate student and co-first author on the paper said the discovery is a big step toward industrialization. “With this catalyst, we can directly reduce carbon dioxide to syngas without the need for a secondary, expensive gasification process,” he said. In other chemical-reduction systems, the only reaction product is carbon monoxide. The new catalyst produces syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide plus hydrogen.

This announcement is a major repositioning of the potential involved in carbon dioxide recycling. It should be of great interest to any firm combusting fuels and emitting CO2 – the technology could very well reduce costs by making a market for the effluents that aggravate so many.

Salehi-Khojin explains, “This is a very generous material. We are able to produce a very stable reaction that can go on for hours.” The high density of loosely bound, energetic d-electrons in molybdenum disulfide facilitates charge transfer, driving the reduction of the carbon dioxide.

MoS2 Images From UIC. Click image for more info.

MoS2 Images From UIC. Click image for more info.

Bijandra Kumar, UIC post-doctoral fellow and co-first author of the paper said, “In comparison with other two-dimensional materials like graphene, there is no need to play with the chemistry of molybdenum disulfide, or insert any host materials to get catalytic activity.”

Graduate student Amirhossein Behranginia, a coauthor on the paper explained, “In noble metal catalysts like silver and gold, catalytic activity is determined by the crystal structure of the metal, but with molybdeneum disulfide, the catalytic activity is on the edges. Fine-tuning of the edge structures is relatively simple. We can easily grow the molybdenum disulfide with the edges vertically aligned to offer better catalytic performance.”

Salehi-Khojin, pleased with the new catalysts versatility noted that the proportion of carbon monoxide to hydrogen in the syngas produced in the reaction can also be easily manipulated using the new catalyst.

One has to admire this group, everyone is credited. Artem Baskin, Nikita Repnin, Davide Pisasale, Patrick Philips, Robert Klie, Petr Kral and Jeremiah Abiade of UIC; Brian Rose and Richard Haasch of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Wei Zhu of Dioxide Materials in Champaign, Illinois, are also coauthors on the paper.

This process technology is getting better every year. Is has a great story based on fuel combusted followed with effluent reprocessed back to fuel again. Lets wish more breakthroughs on this team.


3 Comments so far

  1. dmm on July 31, 2014 1:33 PM

    I have a basic question about syngas from CO2; perhaps someone can answer it for me. It is: why? I don’t see how this helps anything. You burned fossil fuel and got CO2. Then you put energy back in, to turn the waste CO2 into syngas. Which then gets burned, and the CO2 is released. Where does the energy savings come in, and where does the CO2 savings come in? I’m not criticizing; I’m asking.

  2. telangana on August 1, 2014 7:04 AM

    You r correct this is a Major Improvement For Making CO2 Into Fuel

  3. Robbie on August 1, 2014 9:30 PM

    I must be missing something. Seems to me you are trying to get more out than is put in. The chemical energy level must always be in deficit in the chemistry and physics I understand. Maybe it is a new energy source in using the molybdenum disulfide, that is what is really happening but surly this just makes molybdenum disulfide the new energy and actually solves nothing. Now if you are using a renewable energy source to drive this process then why the effort. Why not just use the renewable energy source directly?

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