Brussels, 14 Sep 2006
A pioneering study, funded under the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), has uncovered a way to turn waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful fuel. The Specific Targeted Research Project (STREP), ELCAT, is a joint venture between the Max Planck Institute in Germany, the Louis Pasteur University in France and the University of Patras in Greece, coordinated by researchers from the University of Messina in Italy. The project is funded under the New and Emerging Science and Technologies (NEST) programme of FP6.
The project examined ways to harness the 'lost' carbon in CO2, the most common waste from burning fossil fuels, and the most important greenhouse gas, largely responsible for global warming.
While CO2 is not the worst greenhouse gas, it is by far the most plentiful, and levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are closely monitored, showing an unnerving correlation with rises in air and sea temperature.
'The conversion of CO2 to fuel is not a dream, but an effective possibility which requires further research,' said lead researcher Professor Gabriele Centi from the University of Messina, in an interview with the journal New Scientist.
These results from this project, once refined, could help turn back the clock, and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, turning it into useful fuel. One problem with CO2 is that it is a highly stable gas. Once produced, the chemical bonds in CO2 are extremely difficult to break. The new technique enables special catalysts to break those chemical bonds and create long-chain carbon molecules, which can be easily converted into fuels.
The research can be rightly called cutting-edge. Traditionally, the energy needed to break those chemical bonds, even with catalysts, is very high.. The researchers used a two-stage approach. First, sunlight was used with a titanium catalyst to split water molecules, releasing free 'protons' (hydrogen ions), electrons and oxygen gas. In the second stage, those free electrons are used to reduce the CO2 and bind the carbon atoms together using platinum and palladium catalysts inside carbon nanotubes.
Staggeringly, the research is currently efficient enough to produce molecules of eight or nine long hydrocarbon chains at one per cent efficiency at room temperature. This is already two to three times greater efficiency than any other industrial process. If coupled with 'green' technologies, such as the massive heat generated in solar thermal energy towers, then far greater efficiencies can be achieved.
In a presentation to the American Chemical Society in San Francisco on 13 September, Prof Centi said that viable production of hydrocarbon chains from CO2 could be attained 'within a decade'.For further information about the project, please click:
And to the New Scientist site at: