Science May Turn the Tide of Climate Change With CO2 Conversion

On their way to solving one of the great issues of climate change, the presence of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a group of chemists unexpectedly found the solution they were seeking in their first steps.

A team of scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville, Tennessee, had a plan in mind to create a method of turning the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into a usable fuel. As they began to implement their plan, they found early on that through nanotechnology and the use of common materials, they could convert CO2 into ethanol.

Although there are already some methods for converting carbon dioxide into fuel, the new process, detailed in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Chemistry Select, has several advantages over known methods, from the use of common materials, to the ability to change the waste gas into an already-used fuel and the new process works at room temperature, meaning little energy will be required to make the process work. Common materials, creation of an already-used fuel and a low-energy process spells less of a financial investment for companies who use the process and the potential for profit from the sale of ethanol to the market.

Dr. Adam J. Rondinone, one of the chemists involved in the discovery of the new process of converting CO2 into ethanol explained, “A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol. This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”

The team of scientists is now working to see if they can make the new process any more efficient than it already is in order to make the large-scale capture of the greenhouse gas a reality.

As Rondinone noted, “Carbon dioxide is a problem right now. If we can use it, then we’re preventing it from going into the atmosphere.”

2015 Carbon Dioxide Levels Highest Since Ice Age

The discovery of this new process that would allow technology to prevent carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere is timely, considering that in March 2016, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached levels not seen since the Ice Age.

Scientists blamed the unprecedented “explosion” of CO2 levels on both man-made emissions and the effect of El Nino in the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Pieter Tans, the lead scientist for NOAA in the global greenhouse gas effect network said, “Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years. It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”


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