Turning carbon into fuel – is this how we can tackle global warming?

Australian researchers have found a way to convert carbon dioxide waste produced in industrial settings into useful products such as fuel and plastics.

Jun 11, 2020, updated Jun 11, 2020
The energy market has been thrown into chaos (Photo: ABC)

The energy market has been thrown into chaos (Photo: ABC)

The technology developed by chemical engineers from the University of NSW could effectively close the loop in processes that create harmful greenhouse gases.

In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, Dr Rahman Daiyan and Dr Emma Lovell said if they can reproduce their technology on a large-scale “the process could give the world breathing space as it transitions towards a green economy”.

“The idea is that we can take a point source of CO2, such as a coal-fired power plant, a gas power plant, or even a natural gas mine … we can essentially retrofit this technology at the back end of these plants,” Lovell said in a statement.

“Then you could capture that produced CO2 and convert it into something that is hugely valuable to industry.”

The process involves creating nanoparticles that act as a catalyst to turn carbon dioxide into syngas – a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide used in industrial manufacturing.

“Syngas is often considered the chemical equivalent of Lego because the two building blocks – hydrogen and carbon monoxide – can be used in different ratios to make things like synthetic diesel, methanol, alcohol or plastics, which are very important industrial precursors,” Lovell said.

“So essentially what we’re doing is converting CO2 into these precursors that can be used to make all these vital industrial chemicals.”

However, scaling up the technology to the point where it could convert all of the waste carbon dioxide emitted by a power plant is still a way down the track.


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