Illinois Institute of Technology research revealed a promising breakthrough in green energy. Their design is an electrolyzer device capable of converting carbon dioxide into propane in a manner that is both scalable and economically viable.

The paper published in Nature Energy discusses the pioneering research.

An electrolyzer device illustrated capable of converting carbon dioxide and water into propane. Image Credit: Mohammad Asadi. For larger images click the press release link.

As the United States races toward its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, innovative methods to reduce the significant carbon dioxide emissions from electric power and industrial sectors are critical.

Mohammad Asadi, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Illinois Tech, spearheaded this groundbreaking research said, “Making renewable chemical manufacturing is really important. It’s the best way to close the carbon cycle without losing the chemicals we currently use daily.”

What sets Asadi’s electrolyzer apart is its unique catalytic system. It uses inexpensive, readily available materials to produce tri-carbon molecules – fundamental building blocks for fuels like propane, which is used for purposes ranging from home heating to aviation.

To ensure a deep understanding of the catalyst’s operations, the team employed a combination of experimental and computational methods. This rigorous approach illuminated the crucial elements influencing the catalyst’s reaction activity, selectivity, and stability.

A distinctive feature of this technology, lending to its commercial viability, is the implementation of a flow electrolyzer. This design permits continuous propane production, sidestepping the pitfalls of the more conventional batch processing methods.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Program Director Jack Lewnard commented, “Designing and engineering this laboratory-scale flow electrolyzer prototype has demonstrated Illinois Tech’s commitment to creating innovative technologies. Optimizing and scaling up this prototype will be an important step toward producing a sustainable, economically viable, and energy-efficient carbon capture and utilization process.”

This innovation is not Asadi’s first venture into sustainable energy. He previously adapted a version of this catalyst to produce ethanol by harnessing carbon dioxide from industrial waste gas. Recognizing the potential of the green propane technology, Asadi has collaborated with global propane distributor SHV Energy to further scale and disseminate the system.

Keith Simons, head of research and development for sustainable fuels at SHV Energy remarked, “This is an exciting development which opens up a new e-fuel pathway to on-purpose propane production for the benefit of global users of this essential fuel.”

Illinois Tech Duchossois Leadership Professor and Professor of Physics Carlo Segre, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Andrew Rappe, and University of Illinois Chicago Professor Reza Shahbazian-Yassar contributed to this work. Mohammadreza Esmaeilirad (Ph.D. CHE ’22) was a lead author on the paper.


This should be really important news. Propane is a widely used clean combusting fuel that is easy to transport with a fairly high energy density. Storage systems last decades.

The big news is this concept is continuous flow rather than batch. Set up and regulate the inputs and let it run vs. fill, run, empty, refill, and repeat endlessly. One can easily understand why process engineers and the accountants love continuous flow.

The likely catch is in the difference from the lab economic estimate and the real world projections. This time, one hopes, the difference is only negligible.


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