Chemists can turn carbon dioxide into coal

Chemists can turn carbon dioxide into coal

Chemists can now in theory turn carbon dioxide back into coal and light and heat homes with transparent wood. The world has ample energy-saving ideas.

Australian scientists have found a way to take carbon dioxide and turn it back into something like coal.

It is as if they had translated the hundred-million-year process of making fossil fuel – a natural process powered in the Carboniferous Era by immense amounts of time, massive pressures and huge temperatures – in a laboratory in a day.

They used liquid metal catalysts – a catalyst is a compound that can midwife chemical change without itself being changed – to convert a solution of carbon dioxide into solid flakes of carbon.

And in a second reminder of the high levels of ingenuity and invention at work in the world’s laboratories, as chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers confront the twin challenges of climate change and efficient use of renewable energy, Swedish scientists report that they know how to make timber transparent and heat-storing. That is, they have a way of fashioning wood that can transmit light, and at the same time insulate the building it illuminates.

It may be some time before any huge-scale investment finds a way of taking the greenhouse gas from the air to convert it to solid carbon that can then be buried: for the moment, the surest way of soaking up the emissions from car exhausts and power station chimneys is to restore and protect forests.

“We’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable”

But researchers from Melbourne and Sydney report in the journal Nature Communications that they developed a liquid-metal electrocatalyst that transforms gaseous CO2 directly into carbon-containing solids at room temperature.

They charged their cerium-oxide and liquid gallium catalyst with an electric current and introduced it to a beaker of carbon dioxide dissolved in an electrolyte liquid, to collect solid flakes of carbon, of a quality good enough to be used, they say, to make high performance capacitor electrodes.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” said Torben Daeneke of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, known as RMIT Melbourne.

“To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable. By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable.”

Hard to accomplish

This would be a first step in safely storing what had once been the atmospheric carbon dioxide that – thanks to humankind’s profligate use of fossil fuels for 200 years – drives global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have been wrestling with the idea of carbon capture technology for years.

They have also been pointing out, for years, that the carbon dioxide from power station emissions could be captured and recycled as the basis for the organic chemical industry, or even for fuel..

None of the technologies explored so far is nearing commercial or large-scale production. But researchers go on trying to find new ways to save energy by making the most of natural materials.

Three years ago Lars Berglund of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm announced an optically transparent wood. He and colleagues took out the light-absorbing lignin from some balsa wood, treated it with acrylic and ended up with timber fabric that they could see through, somewhat hazily, but strong enough to bear a load.

New generation

And, his research colleague told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Orlando, Florida in April, it can now do more. It can absorb and release heat, and it could even be made biodegradable.

It could be the fabric of a new generation of eco-friendly housing, with the addition of polyethylene glycol or PEG, a wood-friendly polymer that melts in the warmth, absorbing heat – but at night solidifies again, releasing heat. In effect, the timber becomes a solar battery.

“Back in 2016, we showed that transparent wood has excellent thermal-insulating properties compared with glass, combined with high optical transmittance. In this work, we tried to reduce the building energy consumption even more by incorporating a material that can absorb, store and release heat,” said Céline Montanari of the Stockholm institute.

“During a sunny day the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than the outside. And at night, the reverse occurs – the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.” – Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

This Article Originally Appeared On Climate News Network

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

What Is The Future Of Climate Change?
by Simon Donner
You would think with all the chatter going on about climate that we’d all have a good understanding on the elements of…
Why Marianne Williamson's Candidacy for President Is Important
Why Marianne Williamson's Candidacy for President Is Important
How do you know something exists if you never hear about it? How do you know about the truth, which is often "the other…
Would You Eat Meat Grown From Cells In A Laboratory? Here's How It Works
Would You Eat Meat Grown From Cells In A Laboratory? Here's How It Works
by Leigh Ackland
For many of us, eating a meal containing meat is a normal part of daily life. But if we dig deeper, some sobering…
Climate System “Getting Unhinged” as Massive Heat Wave Causes Record Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet
by Democracy Now!
The massive heat dome that shattered all-time temperature records across much of Europe last week has settled in over…
Why We're Heading For A Climate Catastrophe
by BBC Newsnight
Scientists say the world is completely off track.
A Climate Reckoning In The Heartland
by CBS News
"A historic flood in March 2019 left much of America's heartland under water. Partiularly hard-hit were Midwestern…
What Would Happen If Antarctica Melted?
by Put Put 1
"What Would Happen If Antarctica Melted?
Dr. Peter Wadhams: Arctic Research & the Methane Risk
by UPFSI
Peter Wadhams is back on ScientistsWarning.TV with a comprehensive analysis of the reticent approach that part of the…

LATEST ARTICLES

What Is The Future Of Climate Change?
by Simon Donner
You would think with all the chatter going on about climate that we’d all have a good understanding on the elements of…
People Of Color Don’t Get Credit For Climate Concern
People Of Color Don’t Get Credit For Climate Concern
by U. Oregon
While their contributions to the climate change movement remain largely unrecognized, people of color are just as…
New Research Shows That Antarctica's Largest Floating Ice Shelf Is Highly Sensitive To Warming Of The Ocean
New Research Shows That Antarctica's Largest Floating Ice Shelf Is Highly Sensitive To Warming Of The Ocean
by Dan Lowry
Scientists have long been concerned about the potential collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and its contribution…
It'll Be Hard, But We Can Feed The World With Plant Protein
It'll Be Hard, But We Can Feed The World With Plant Protein
by Richard Trethowan
A UN report released last week found a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions come from the food chain, particularly…
Underground Water Sources For Billions Could Take More Than A Century To Respond Fully To Climate Change
Underground Water Sources For Billions Could Take More Than A Century To Respond Fully To Climate Change
by Mark O. Cuthbert, et al
Groundwater is the biggest store of accessible freshwater in the world, providing billions of people with water for…
Why Is The Australian Energy Regulator Suing Wind Farms?
Why Is The Australian Energy Regulator Suing Wind Farms?
by Samantha Hepburn
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is suing four of the wind farms involved in the 2016 South Australian blackout -…
Groundwater Reserves In Africa May Be More Resilient To Climate Change Than First Thought
Groundwater Reserves In Africa May Be More Resilient To Climate Change Than First Thought
by Mark O. Cuthbert and Richard Taylor
Groundwater reserves in Africa are estimated to be 20 times larger than the water stored in lakes and reservoirs above…
Australia Urgently Needs Real Sustainable Agriculture Policy
Australia Urgently Needs Real Sustainable Agriculture Policy
by InnerSelf Staff
Australia has made a global commitment to “sustainable agriculture”, an endeavour seen as increasingly crucial to…