American researchers have developed a new technique they claim is capable of efficiently turning atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel using only water and sunlight.
The method, which could eventually be developed into technology for fossil fuel power plants, relies on identical principles as plants in nature that are using water, sunlight and CO2 to create sugars to grow.
"We're trying to speed up the natural carbon cycle and make it more efficient," said Karl Johnson, professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and principal investigator of the study published in the journal ACS Catalysis.
"You don't have to waste energy on all the extra baggage it takes to grow plants, and the result is a man-made carbon cycle that produces liquid fuel."
The team has examined eight different groups of chemical catalysts that could make the reaction run more smoothly and found, which criteria make a catalyst efficient.
Turning CO2 into liquid fuel has so far been complicated by the fact that CO2 is a very stable molecule. That means that an enormous amount of energy is required to get it to react. One common way to make use of excess CO2 involves removing an oxygen atom and combining the remaining carbon monoxide with hydrogen to create methanol.
However, during this process, parts of the conversion reactor need to heat as high as 1000 degrees Celsius, which can be difficult to sustain.
A catalyst can get the CO2 to react at much lower temperatures that can be achieved by the simple exposure to sunlight.
However, most existing catalysts are too expensive to mass produce.