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Capture and conversion of carbon emissions may soon be possible

A team of American and Canadian scientists report that, at some point in the next 10 years, it may be feasible to affordably capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and convert the CO2 waste for many important uses such as biofuels.

“Similar to how a plant takes carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water to make sugars for itself, we are interested in using technology to take energy from the sun or other renewable sources to convert CO2 into small building block molecules which can then be upgraded using traditional means of chemistry for commercial use,” said study first author Phil De Luna. “We’re taking inspiration from nature and doing it faster and more efficiently.”

Thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted from power plants each year. The new study has identified a series of small, useful molecules that could be made from captured carbon dioxide.

For example, hydrogen, methane, and ethane could be used in biofuels, while CO2-derived formic acid could be used by the pharmaceutical industry.

Current technologies that can capture CO2 waste are still relatively new, but strategies are being developed for commercial use. This gives the researchers hope that CO2 capture and conversion will soon become a reality.

Technology which stimulates chemical reactions through electricity, or electrocatalysis, has the potential to expand the process of carbon capture and conversion within the next 5 to 10 years. According to the team, molecular machines or nanotechnology could drive conversion 50 years from now.

“This is still technology for the future, but it’s theoretically possible and feasible, and we’re excited about its scale up and implementation,” said study co-author Oleksandr Bushuyev. “If we continue to work at this, it’s a matter of time before we have power plants where CO2 is emitted, captured, and converted.”

The study is published in the journal Joule.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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