Catalyst Produces Useful Hydrocarbons While Removing CO2
Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis, but if CO2 is also added to the mixture, compounds can be generated to make textiles, diapers and even spirits. American scientists, led by a Spaniard, have developed a catalyst that accelerates this reaction, while also removing a greenhouse gas. A team of researchers from Canada and the U.S. has developed a catalyst that quickly and efficiently converts carbon dioxide into simple chemicals. In this way, they transform the most important greenhouse gas into useful products for industry. “The technology of water electrolyzers is well known: they transform water and electricity into hydrogen and oxygen, but in our case, we add CO2 to the cocktail and, instead of producing hydrogen, we can generate various hydrocarbons, such as ethylene, which is the most widely used organic compound worldwide,” researcher F. Pelayo García de Arquer, of the University of Toronto (Canada), has told SINC. “Thus,” he explains, “we can obtain raw materials for the manufacture of products such as construction materials, textiles, paints, electronic device components, diapers… or even spirits.” The key to the new device is a polymer coating that facilitates the transport of CO2 through the surface of the metal or electrode of the catalyst. Carbon dioxide, generally speaking, has difficulty penetrating aqueous solutions and reaching the entire surface of this material; so when the flow of electrons (electric current) is increased to carry out the reaction, there is not enough CO2 to be transformed. But the authors, who have published their study in Science magazine, show that this limitation can be overcome: “We have discovered that a certain configuration of ionomers (polymers that conduct ions and water to the catalyst) allows us to considerably increase the ease with which CO2 is distributed along the catalytic surface, thus allowing us to achieve higher productivity,” García de Arquer points out. This ionomer coating contains hydrophobic (water-repellent) and hydrophilic (water-attracting) parts and is grouped together to form an ultra-thin layer of about 10 nanometers that helps to maintain the reaction where, from the CO2 gas and the hydrogen in the water (H+ protons), the hydrocarbon is built.