As the human race continues to seek out effective solutions to climate change and ways to build a more sustainable future, we’re met with the urgent need for alternative energy solutions that make an impact. A groundbreaking discovery by researchers from the University of Nottingham’s School of Chemistry are making strides to give us just that. The team recently managed to turn carbon dioxide into a valuable fuel source!

Led by Professor Richard Layfield, and drawing inspiration from nature’s ability to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds through photosynthesis, the researchers set out to develop a synthetic method for transforming greenhouse gasses into Methanol. Methanol has long been recognized as a promising alternative to fossil fuels due to its high energy density and compatibility with existing infrastructure: Methanol is already “a chemical building block for hundreds of everyday products, including plastics, paints, car parts and construction materials.” However, traditional methods of methanol production often rely on fossil fuels as feedstocks, contributing to carbon emissions and exacerbating environmental concerns.

beautuful shot up through green trees to the sunshine

The key behind the researchers’ breakthrough lies in shining sunlight on single atoms of copper deposited on a light-activated material. Using a process called photocatalysis, “light is shone on a semiconductor material that excites electrons, enabling them to travel through the material to react with CO2 and water, leading to a variety of useful products, including methanol, which is a green fuel” (EurekaAlert!).

“There is a large variety of different materials used in photocatalysis,” said Dr Madasamy Thangamuthu, a research fellow who co-led the team. ““There is a large variety of different materials used in photocatalysis. It is important that the photocatalyst absorbs light and separates charge carriers with high efficiency. In our approach, we control the material at the nanoscale.”

The implications of this breakthrough are profound and far-reaching. By harnessing carbon dioxide as a feedstock for methanol production, researchers offer a promising pathway towards a carbon-neutral energy economy. Instead of being released into the atmosphere as a pollutant, carbon dioxide could possibly be recycled and repurposed as a valuable resource for fuel production in the future.

“Carbon dioxide valorisation holds the key for achieving the net-zero ambition of the UK,” said Professor Andrei Khlobystov from the School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham. “It is vitally important to ensure the sustainability of our catalyst materials for this important reaction. A big advantage of the new catalyst is that it consists of sustainable elements – carbon, nitrogen and copper – all highly abundant on our planet.”

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Furthermore, this technology holds promise for widespread adoption across various sectors, including transportation, industry, and energy generation. Methanol produced from carbon dioxide could serve as a sustainable fuel for vehicles, power plants, and chemical manufacturing processes, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and paving the way for a cleaner, greener future.

As a reliable provider of carbon dioxide for over eight decades, CalOx was thrilled to learn about this bold new discovery. Want to discover the quality products and services that we provide? Contact us today!