University of Amsterdam (UvA) researchers have invented a new catalyst that can efficiently convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO). Using carbon dioxide as a raw material and converting it to useful chemicals or fuels is notoriously difficult because of compound’s molecular stability. This stability poses severe challenges to attempts to activate or reactivate CO2 in a CO2 recycling programs.

Dr. Edwin S. Gnanakumar operating the catalytic flow. Image Credit: University of Amsterdam. Click image for the largest view.

This soon-to-be patented invention enables the sustainable utilization of CO2 that if successful on a large scale could provide a practical way for converting CO2 to useful chemicals. In the field of chemistry, practical solutions are currently being sought to use the gas as resource rather than lost as a waste product.

The researchers inventing the catalyst, UvA chemists Edwin Gnanakumar and Shiju Raveendran, are in the process of commercializing the catalyst with the help of Amsterdam Innovation Exchange (IXA), the university’s technology transfer office.

Gnanakumar and Raveendran, who work in the UvA’s Sustainable Chemistry research priority area, have managed to address this activation problem by inventing a catalyst that can efficiently convert CO2 to CO at relatively mild conditions. The CO can then be converted to a number of common hydrocarbons with the use of existing technology, thus opening up an efficient way to utilize CO2.

“It was an accidental discovery,” said Raveendran. “We were experimenting for a different product, but the catalyst turned out to be highly selective for CO2, better than any reported ones.”

The new catalyst is easily prepared and inexpensive. It can convert CO2 at ambient pressure and low temperatures. Longer-term tests in a flow reactor confirmed that the catalyst remains active, showing promise for scaling up for applications such as industrial flue gas conversion. According to the researchers, the conversion can be easily adapted for handling large amounts of gases.

Should this idea work out at scale it would be quite a revolution for flue gas issues, particularly the coal fueled electrical power business. Carbon dioxide sequestration would cease to be a idea of high merit when the CO2 could be reused in hydrocarbon products.

The work on the CO2 catalyst is part of the framework of the European research project CAPITA (Catalytic Processes for Innovative Technology Application) along with three companies: Hellenic Petroleum Renewables (Greece), GRAPHENANO (Spain), and Delft Solid Solutions (Netherlands).

This discovery just might have some market legs.


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