Researchers at Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Center for Materials Science used theoretical modeling to identify metals that can convert carbon dioxide into sustainable and clean fuel sources.

Led by Associate Professor Liangzhi Kou at QUT, were part of an international study that used theoretical modeling to identify six metals (nickel, niobium, palladium, rhenium, rhodium, zirconium) that were found to be effective in a reaction that can recycle carbon dioxide back into useful fuels.

The study published in Nature Communications also involved QUT researchers Professor Aijun Du, Professor Yuantong Gu and Dr Lin Ju.

Professor Kou said the research was conducted by modeling the experiments using the National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University, looking at how single atoms of the metals would react with two-dimensional pieces of “ferroelectric” materials.

A metal anchored α-In2Se3 monolayer is placed between the electrodes to achieve ferroelectric switching and controllable catalysis, tuned by the reversal of the bias direction. Image Credit: Queensland University of Technology. Click image for the largest view.

Ferroelectric materials have a positive charge on one face, and negative charge on another, and this polarization can be reversed when a voltage is applied.

In the theoretical modeling, the researchers found that adding the atom of the catalyst metal to the ferroelectric material resulted in converting the greenhouse gas into a desired chemical fuel.

Once the polarity is reversed, the state will be preserved to act as a catalyst in converting the carbon dioxide.

Professor Kou noted that while single-atom catalysts to be used in reducing carbon dioxide was proposed a decade ago, this research takes the field significantly forward. “It means we for the first time developed the abilities to speed up or slow down, even switch of the chemical reaction. Carbon dioxide is the main reason of global warming due to the greenhouse effect, to convert it into the chemical fuels is not only important for our environments, but also helpful to solve the energy crisis,” he explained.

Dr Ju, first author on the study, said the research work provided a guidance for the design of novel catalysts which could produce significant impacts for the chemical industry.

Professor Kou pointed out the long-term goal in this area of research was to find ways to turning carbon dioxide into clean energy sources. The results of the study could eventually lead to a way of adding a coating to engines or industrial systems that would convert carbon dioxide instead of releasing more of the gas into the atmosphere.

The QUT researchers work and study at the School of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering, and School of Chemistry and Physics.


This research may well turn out to be the end point of the war on carbon fuels. CO2 is plant food, eliminate it the plant life dies, people to in quite short order. The big question is can the new catalyst idea scale up and be economically feasible.

For today though we have a possibility to match up to the goal. That is a huge jump in progress for humans going current in the planet’s carbon cycle.


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