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Researchers develop catalytic reactor for converting greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel

Researchers develop catalytic reactor for converting greenhouse gas into pure liquid fuel

Rice University has come up with an invention that converts carbon dioxide into valuable fuels. Carbon Dioxide was turned to liquid fuel in an environment-friendly manner by using an electrolyzer and renewable energy. The catalytic reactor was developed by Haotian Wang, a chemical and biomolecular engineer at Rice University.

It uses carbon dioxide as feedstock and the latest prototype produces highly purified concentrated formic acid. Traditional ways of producing formic acid are costly and require energy-intensive purification steps. The direct production of pure formic acid will help in promoting commercial carbon dioxide conversion technologies. The work appears in Nature Energy journal.

Wang and his group pursue all those technologies that convert greenhouse gases into useful products. In experiments, the electrocatalyst reached an energy conversion efficiency of nearly 42%. So almost half the electrical energy can be stored as liquid fuel in the formic acid. Formic acid an energy carrier and a fuel cell that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide which can be recycled again. It is a fundamental unit in chemical engineering as a feedstock for other chemicals and also a storage material for hydrogen that can hold 1000 times the energy of the same amount of hydrogen gas, which is also difficult to compress.

Chuan Xia, postdoc researcher at Rice said that this was possible due to two advancements. The first being the development of robust, two-dimensional bismuth catalysts and the second, a solid-state electrolyte which eliminates the need for salt in the reaction. Bismuth is a heavy atom with lower mobility and stabilizes the catalyst. The structure of the reactor prevents contact of water from the catalyst. Currently, catalysts are produced on a milligram or gram scale but Xia and his team have developed a way to produce them in the kilograms thus scaling up the industry.

The polymer-based electrolyte is coated with sulphonic acid ligands to conduct positive charge or amino functional groups for negative ions. Carbon dioxide is usually reduced in a liquid electrode using salty water and for the conduction of electricity, pure water is too resistant. Salts like sodium chloride or potassium bicarbonate have to be added so that ions can move freely.

Formic acid generated in this manner mixes with salts. But for most of the applications, salts have to eliminated from the end product which consumes energy and cost. Instead, solid electrolytes made up of insoluble polymers, inorganic compounds were used thus cancelling the need for salts.

The rate of water flow through the chamber determines the concentration of the solution. Researchers have expectations to achieve higher concentration from next-generation reactors accepting gas flow to generate pure formic acid.

The Rice lab worked with Brookhaven National Laboratory to view the process in progress. “X-ray absorption spectroscopy, a powerful technique available at the Inner Shell Spectroscopy (ISS) beamline at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II. It enables us to probe the electronic structure of electrocatalysts during the actual chemical process.

They followed the bismuth’s oxidation states at different potentials and were able to identify the catalyst’s active state during the reduction process of carbon dioxide. The reactor can generate formic acid for 100 hours without any degradation of its components. Carbon dioxide reduction is a big step towards the effect of global warming and with renewable energy, we can make a loop that turns carbon dioxide to useful products without emitting it.

Journal Reference: Nature Energy

Carbon Dioxide Pellets feritliser

Scientists turn damaging carbon dioxide into pellets to restore soils and increase crop yields

Carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from the atmosphere could be used to restore degraded soils, save water and boost crop yields, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food in collaboration with industry partner CCm Technologies Ltd have developed pellets made from a mixture of captured CO2 and waste straw or anaerobic digestate from the slurry, which can be used as a normal fertilizer to improve the health and water retention of soils.

The production of each tonne of these pellets generates up to 6.5 tonnes less CO2 than a typical conventional fossil fuel-based fertilizer – and could therefore dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of foods like bread.

These new pellets could turn damaging CO2 into something positive – helping communities to cope with increasingly extreme droughts by allowing farmers to grow more food while using less water.

Dr Janice Lake

Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield

A new study published in the Journal of CO2 Utilization found the pellets improved soil water retention by up to 62 percent with immediate and prolonged effect, potentially helping crops to survive drought conditions for longer. They also resulted in a 38 percent increase in crop yields – demonstrating the pellets’ potential to grow more food using fewer resources.

There was a 20 percent increase in microbial growth in soil treated with the pellets, which is crucial for soil fertility and soil functions like decomposition and nutrient cycling. The pellets also increased the pH of the soil, making it less acidic, which could help restore degraded or even contaminated soils – and potentially increase their ability to act as a carbon sink.

Dr. Janice Lake from the Institute for Sustainable Food, an Independent Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, is the lead author of the study. She said: “Faced with a climate emergency and a growing population, we urgently need innovative solutions to feed the world.

“As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we need to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to limit temperature rises. These new pellets could turn damaging CO2into something positive – helping communities to cope with increasingly extreme droughts by allowing farmers to grow more food while using less water.

“These initial results are really exciting, and we hope to be able to prove this new product’s potential with field tests in the near future.”

Dr. Lake collaborated with Pawel Kisielewski, Dr. Fabricio Marques and Professor Peter Hammond from CCm Technologies. Professor Hammond is also a visiting Professor in Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Sheffield.

Materials provided by the University of Sheffield

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 777

Upcoming plane design accommodates passengers, cargo in its wings

Dutch airline company KLM announced that it is funding for the development of a V-shaped airplane in which passengers will be able to sit in the wings for increasing the fuel efficiency. The company added that the futuristic shape of the airplane will be highly aerodynamic and will be making the “Flying V” lighter. The designers of the airplane said that the carrier will need 20 percent lesser fuel than the most advanced aircraft present today, the Airbus A350.

According to researchers, the prototype version of the airplane will be ready by the upcoming fall. But the actual commencement of its services would not start till the year 2040. The idea for such a sustainable aircraft which is able to accommodate passengers along with cargo and fuel tanks in its wings was given by a student named Justus Benad from Technical University, Berlin. The concept was also developed further by Delft Technical University, Netherlands in cooperation with KLM.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was founded in the year 1919 and it is the oldest airplane company in the planet which has been operating under the original name. As of 2015, it employed a total of 35,488 employees and had a fleet of 119.

Similar to the highly advanced Airbus A350, the Flying V can carry 314 passengers and a total of 160 square metres of cargo which translates to 1722.23 square feet. On top of all these developments, it will have the same wingspan so that it can be used with the same gates and runways without any extra changes made.

The company declared that the V-shaped airplane will be able to make long distance travels with increased sustainability. The project leader at TU Delft, Roelof Vos declared that the size of Flying-V is smaller compared to Airbus A350 along with lesser inflow surface area in the available volume. The result of these changes is lesser resistance which also translates to lesser fuel requirements for the same length of travel.

The airplane has deployed the state-of-art turbofan engines which are highly efficient, as per the company sources. Although the present model is run on kerosene it can be adapted in the future so that it can use electric turbofans.

Vos said that as a result of these incremental changes, Flying V can help the Dutch aviation sector in meeting the sustainability goals. The sector wants to reduce the aviation carbon dioxide emissions by a margin of 35 percent by 2030, with more passengers flying. The first model will be tested at low speeds to check its stability.

air pollution smoke rising from plant tower

Latest estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide shows horrifying future ahead

Human actions have depleted the natural resources of the planet to a great extent. From polluting the atmosphere, depletion of fossil fuels to harming aquatic life, human footprints have been literally everywhere. The price has to be paid by the coming generations.

Calculations by scientists showed that the carbon levels reached an all-time high of more than 415 parts per million in the middle of May. For the second time in the span of two months, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA have bad news to be shared.

The team of researchers recorded the highest monthly average of carbon dioxide above the largest volcano in Hawaii since measurements began 61 years ago. The number is 414.8 parts per million, which has been the greatest of the increase in measurements made every year in May. Researchers at Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory have been recording the values from 1958 and the values have been plotted on a curve known as “Keeling Curve“- after Charles David Keeling who observed a strange trend. The results have been published by The Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

When the measurement began, the average annual increase of carbon dioxide was approximately 0.7 ppm. It increased to 1.5 ppm in the 1990s and in 2000s it had a value of 2.2 ppm. In 2019, both NOAA and Scripps found that this May monthly average – the highest point each year – is 3.5 ppm higher than it was in 2018. So, the annual change in CO2 is now 3.5 ppm per year. While a single reading can be dismissed, this continuous increment cannot be ignored.

Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 program at Scripps and son of Charles Keeling commented that the human intervention in the earth’s atmosphere can be clearly observed as we focus on the bigger picture. Most of this change is due to the extremely high usage of fossil fuels which has led to search for more greener sources of energy. Climate model projections do not give us the current state of the atmosphere and they tend to overlook the alarming situation of global warming. However, these measurements are real time and give us an overview of our situation and where we are heading to.

Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist with the Global Monitoring Division of the NOAA remarked that it is very essential to have the correct, long term measurements of the carbon dioxide levels to get a clear understanding of the changes caused by fossil fuel pollution to our climate.

There have been many proposals on how to tackle the problem of global warming, but without a sharp decline of the carbon dioxide emissions, the proposals are borderline useless.


Artificial photosynthesis helps in converting carbon dioxide to liquid fuel

Photosynthesis is claimed to be the most natural and pure process of nature through which plants are able to produce energy by taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen. A new way of artificial photosynthesis is developed by scientists producing high energy hydrocarbons by using gold particles as a catalyst. The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

This artificial process mimics the natural method by chemical manipulations that create liquid fuel without chlorophyll. The goal of this process and the researchers involved is to produce complex hydrocarbons from excess carbon dioxide and resources like sunlight. Compared to gaseous fuel, liquid fuel is more economical, easy to transport and safer. The ability to create clean fuel at a large scale by artificial photosynthesis could be a game changer in the fight towards global warming and climate change as it might one day power our homes.

Prashant Jain who is working on this research from the University of Illinois has based his current research on his previous work which investigated the work of gold nanoparticles as a substitute to chlorophyll and as a pigment that will act as a catalyst during the chemical reaction for artificial photosynthesis.

During experimentation, it became clear that gold nanoparticles could absorb visible green light and will be able to excite photons and electrons. His new study is to convert excess carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons like propane and methane using gold nanoparticles for artificial photosynthesis. In addition to these hydrocarbons, we can still produce ethylene, acetylene and propene to be photosynthesized for energy storage in fuel cells, as long chain molecules contain more bonds meaning that they pack energy more densely. This method of artificial photosynthesis will prove to be worthy only if we can meet the desired efficiency in the conversion process.

There is a lot of work to be done in refining the ability of gold particles to act as a catalyst and drive these chemical reactions for converting carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel. Jain claims that there is still a long way to go until we set the right gears for this process to be implemented and tried and tested before we present this as a product to the world. They predict a decade more of time so that researchers can find practical carbon dioxide sequestration, carbon dioxide fixation and fuel formation technologies that along with being economically viable also need to be reliable. Such research work towards a good global cause needs to be promoted and encouraged.

How good it would be if we had a machine with us and we just have to put water in it and place it in sunlight and it should give us food instantaneously. What do you think? Would you like to have such a machine? Tell us with a quick and short comment.

Read about Artificial Photosynthetic cells

solar panels array

Scientists develop new material for improving efficiency of solar panels

Clean energy acts as an intersection which acts as a suitable substitution for fossil fuels. It is noticed that solar power plants have to boost their planning in a better way to compete with the electrical output of the non-renewable energy sources. The design highly depends upon the renovation and growth of newly made products such that they ingest and interchange the heat at the higher temperatures.

 The solar panels which are found on the hybrid cars or the residential rooftops are found lesser compared to the ones found in the solar power plants. Since the solar panels found in the power plants are huge and countless in number so the heat they absorb is more so they absorb more thermal energy from the sun as much as they can and then they create a passage so that the heat can pass through and that heat is converted into fluid-filled converter is known as heat exchanger.

A liquid version of carbon dioxide which is known as supercritical CO2 acts as an agency in converting the energy and the hotter the fluid gets the more the electricity can be produced. Researchers from the University of Toledo have discovered a newer technology based on the supercritical CO2 as a channel which helps in converting into energy and here this fluid minimizes the manufacturing costs and also minimizes the electricity level and commits to working in a good manner with accuracy and it can benefit to the future power plants too. This report was published in Nature journal

An assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department at Texas A&M University Dorrin Jarrahbashi said that the metal material which is used to make the solar panel heat exchangers using supercritical CO2 energy cycles are only firm up to 550 degrees Celsius and he also added that if the heat rises then break down occurs which leads to the replacement of the components and becomes less effective.

To solve this problem the researchers developed a new complex material which had a combination of ceramic and tungsten which is refractory metal which can take the heat of over 750 degrees Celsius. The tendency to tolerate heat can lead to more effectiveness in generating electricity in united solar and supercritical CO2 power plants by 20%. Compared to the fossil fuels the output and the longevity of the mixture and the lower cost in production will help in cutting down the price of construction and maintenance of powerplants.

It is said that with the help of the unique chemical, mechanical and thermal properties there is numerous approach for the compound. It started from improving its nuclear power plants to building rocket nozzles the results of this revolution has made a vast impact in the future of research and industry.

electricity eating bacteria

Electricity-eating microbes use electrons and fix carbon dioxide to grow

We have often seen our metal products catching rust and we usually apply some grease over it in order to prevent the rust over it. According to the study carried out by the researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis, it explains that there are certain bacteria’s which eat the electricity and transfer electrons to fix carbon dioxide to fuel its growth.

The research was lead by Prof. Arpita Bose, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Michael Guzman, a PhD candidate in her laboratory. The team showed how a naturally occurring strain of Rhodopseudomonas palustris takes up electrons from conductive substances like metal oxides or rust.

This is a continuation of the previous research carried by Bose, which states that R. palustris TIE-1 can consume electrons from rust proxies like poised electrodes, a process called extracellular electron uptake. R. palustris being phototrophic, it uses energy from light to carry out certain metabolic processes.

The new research explains the cellular sinks where this microbe dumps the electrons it eats from electricity. “It clearly shows for the first time how this activity—the ability for the organism to eat electricity—is connected to carbon dioxide fixation,” said Bose.

physiology of R palustris bacteria

Overview of the physiology of R. palustris.( Credit: Nature journal)

This special ability clearly shows the microbe’s natural ability for sustainable energy storage or other bioenergy applications which have caught the attention of the Department of Energy and Department of Defense.

Explaining the origins of the bacteria Bose says “R. palustris strains can be found in wild and exotic places like a rusty bridge in Woods Hole, Massachusetts where TIE-1 was isolated from. You can find these organisms everywhere. This suggests that extracellular electron uptake might be very common.

Co-researcher Guzzam adds “The main challenge is that it’s an anaerobe, so you need to grow it in an environment that doesn’t have oxygen in order for it to harvest light energy. But the flip side to that is that those challenges are met with a lot of versatility in this organism that a lot of other organisms don’t have.”

The researchers in their newspaper showed that the electrons from electricity enter into proteins in the membrane that are important for photosynthesis. Surprisingly, when they deleted the microbe’s ability to fix carbon dioxide, they observed a 90 percent reduction in its ability to consume electricity which means that it really want to fix carbon. This process is similar to the recharging of the battery.

Bose adds “The microbe uses electricity to charge its redox pool, storing up the electrons and making it highly reduced. To discharge it, the cell reduces carbon dioxide. The energy for all this comes from sunlight. The whole process keeps repeating itself, allowing the cell to make biomolecules with nothing more than electricity, carbon dioxide and sunlight. We hope that this ability to combine electricity and light to reduce carbon dioxide might be used to help find sustainable solutions to the energy crisis.

The new research answers basic science questions and provides plenty of opportunity for future bioenergy applications.

Published Researchhttps://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-09377-6