Scientists find innovative way to convert carbon dioxide into clean fuel

A schematic shows the formate process. Credit:  Shuhan Miao, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Have you ever thought about what happens to all the carbon dioxide (CO2) we release into the air?

Well, some smart people at MIT and Harvard University have found a way to take that CO2 and turn it into something we can use: fuel!

Researchers have developed a method to turn CO2 into a substance called ‘formate.’ Formate is a material that can be used like fuel to generate electricity.

The cool thing about formate is that it’s safe and easy to use.

Some of you might have seen it in action, as it’s used to melt ice on roads and sidewalks during winters.

Before this discovery, turning CO2 into fuel was a tricky two-step process.

First, the CO2 was captured and transformed into a solid, and then this solid was heated to get a fuel. This old method wasn’t very efficient; only 20% of the CO2 ended up as fuel.

The new method is much better. It directly changes the CO2 into a special liquid called ‘liquid metal bicarbonate’.

Then, using clean electricity (like from wind or solar energy), this liquid is changed into formate. The final formate can be dried and stored as a solid powder. And the best part? It can be stored for years without going bad.

There are other ways to store energy, like using hydrogen or methanol. But there are some problems with them. Hydrogen tends to leak from its tanks over time, and methanol is toxic and can be dangerous if it leaks.

Formate, however, is safe. Even if it spills, it won’t harm anyone. Also, it’s super stable. That means once we’ve made it, we can keep it around for a long time until we’re ready to use it.

To make this method work well, the researchers had to solve some challenges. They had to design the system so that it remains balanced and works for a long time without slowing down. In their tests, their system worked non-stop for over 200 hours!

Also, they made sure unwanted chemical reactions were stopped by adding a special layer. This ensured that only formate was produced, without any other unwanted chemicals.

They even built a special device called a ‘fuel cell’ to turn the formate into electricity. When needed, the formate powder is mixed with water and fed into this fuel cell to produce power.

Imagine a world where homes have their own little machines that capture CO2 from the air and turn it into formate. This formate can be stored and used whenever we need power. That’s what these researchers are thinking about!

A single unit could be as big as a refrigerator. It would capture CO2, turn it into formate, and store it. Later, when electricity is needed, the formate would be used to generate power and heat.

Key Takeaways

This is an exciting step towards a future where we can reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and turn it into something useful.

It’s a win-win: we help the planet and get energy in return!

The researchers believe that this method could be used not just in homes but also in factories and for larger purposes. So, the next time you think about CO2, remember that science is finding ways to make it our friend!

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Source: MIT.