Scientists at Brown University’s Center for Capture and Conversion of CO2 have discovered that copper foam could provide a new way of converting excess CO2 into useful industrial chemicals, including formic acid.
A catalyst made from a foamy form of copper has vastly different electrochemical properties from catalysts made with smooth copper in reactions involving carbon dioxide, a new study shows.
The research, by scientists in Brown University’s Center for the Capture and Conversion of CO2, suggests that copper foams could provide a new way of converting excess CO2 into useful industrial chemicals.
The research is published in the journal ACS Catalysis.
As levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continue to rise, researchers are looking for ways to make use of it. One approach is to capture CO2 emitted from power plants and other facilities and use it as a carbon source to make industrial chemicals, most of which are currently made from fossil fuels. The problem is that CO2 is extremely stable, and reducing it to a reactive and useful form isn’t easy.
“Copper has been studied for a long time as an electrocatalyst for CO2 reduction, and it’s the only metal shown to be able to reduce CO2 to useful hydrocarbons,” said Tayhas Palmore, professor of engineering and senior author of the new research. “There was some indication that if you roughen the surface of planar copper, it would create more active sites for reactions with CO2.”
Copper foam, which has been developed only in the last few years, provided the surface roughness that Palmore and her colleagues were looking for. The foams are made by depositing copper on a surface in the presence of hydrogen and a strong electric current. Hydrogen bubbles cause the copper to be deposited in an arrangement of sponge-like pores and channels of varying sizes.
After depositing copper foams on an electrode, the researchers set up experiments to see what kinds of products would be produced in an electrochemical reaction with CO2 in water. The experiments were performed by Sujat Sen and Dan Liu, graduate students in chemistry working in Palmore’s lab at Brown’s School of Engineering.
The experiments showed that the copper foam converted CO2 into formic acid — a compound often used as a feedstock for microbes that produce biofuels — at a much greater efficiency than planar copper. The reaction also produced small amounts of propylene, a useful hydrocarbon that’s never been reported before in reactions involving copper.
“The product distribution was unique and very different from what had been reported with planar electrodes, which was a surprise,” Palmore said. “We’ve identified another parameter to consider in the electroreduction of CO2. It’s not just the kind of metal that’s responsible for the direction this chemistry goes, but also the architecture of the catalyst.”
Now that it’s clear that architecture matters, Palmore and her colleagues are working to see what happens when that architecture is tweaked. It’s likely, she says, that pores of different depths or diameters will produce different compounds from a CO2 feedstock. Ultimately, it might be possible to tune the copper foam toward a specific desired compound.
Palmore said she’s amazed by the fact that there’s still more to be learned about copper.
“People have studied electrocatalysis with copper for a couple decades now,” she said. “It’s remarkable that we can still make alterations to it that affect what’s produced.”
The work in the study is part of a larger effort by Brown’s Center for the Capture and Conversion of CO2. The Center, funded by the National Science Foundation, is exploring a variety of catalysts that can convert CO2 into usable forms of carbon.
“The goal is to find ways to produce some of the world's largest-volume chemicals from a sustainable carbon source that the Earth not only has in excess but urgently needs to reduce,” said Palmore, who leads the center. “This is a way for us as scientists to begin thinking of how we produce industrial chemicals in more sustainable ways and control costs at the same time. The cost of commodity chemicals is going nowhere but up as long as production is dependent on fossil fuels.”
The Center for Capture and Conversion of CO2 is a Center for Chemical Innovation funded by the National Science Foundation (CHE-1240020).
Kevin Stacey | Eurek Alert!
New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules
11.02.2016 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Scientists from MIPT gain insights into 'forbidden' chemistry
11.02.2016 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
11.02.2016 | Life Sciences
11.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
11.02.2016 | Earth Sciences