Net-Zero Initiative Could Benefit from New Carbon Conversion Technology

February 10, 2023

A consortium including Ames Laboratory, Iowa State University, University of Virginia, and Columbia University has created a new hybrid catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into ethylene. Ethylene is considered to be the most important compound in the petrochemical industry and is used to make a variety of goods from plastics to antifreeze, but until recently, its production has been heavily dependent on fossil fuels, both as a source material and to provide the energy needed for its creation.

Conventional production of Ethylene involves a process called “steam cracking” of Ethane gas. This use of extreme temperature (up to 900 degree Celsius) and pressure is energy intensive, and produces significant amounts of CO2.

Researchers have now announced the development of a “one-pot” two stage catalytic conversion, which can initially reduce the CO2 to CO (carbon monoxide) via a nickel based catalyst, and then further reduce the CO to ethylene using a copper nanowire and the addition of Hydrogen.  Currently the process results in up to a 60% conversion efficiency.

Long Qi, a scientist at Ames Lab emphasized the significance of using CO2 as a feedstock for this reaction. For the time being, ethylene is neither particularly scarce nor expensive.  However, the potential for the manufacture of such a wide ranging useful chemical with no underlying dependency on fossil fuels could encourage CCS schemes to investigate the technology with regards to any achievable economic return.

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