The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study titled “Solar photothermochemical alkane reverse combustion” demonstrating the one-step conversion of carbon-dioxide and water into liquid hydrocarbons and oxygen. The feat was achieved by a team of chemists and engineers from the University of Texas at Arlington.
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The research team was able to prove that dense light, heat, and high can be employed to create the one-step conversion of CO2 and water into liquid hydrocarbon fuels that can be used in vehicles and planes. With this new process, CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere to make fuel, thereby limiting the threats of global warming. By the same technology, oxygen is reintroduced back into the atmosphere as a byproduct of the chemical reaction, impacting the environment in a positive way.
“Our process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system,“ said Frederick MacDonnell, UTA interim chair of chemistry and biochemistry and co-principal investigator of the project.
Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the study noted his team is the first to ever utilize heat and light to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons via a single reactor of CO2 and water.
“Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process,” he said.
Duane Dimos, UTA vice president for research commended the research team on their success, adding that the work strengthens UTA’s reputation as a leading research institution in the area of Global Environmental Impact as can be seen in the university’s Strategic Plan 2020.
The researchers used titanium dioxide as the thermochemical and photochemical agent for the research because it is a white powder that cannot absorb all the visible light spectrum.
“Our next step is to develop a photo-catalyst better matched to the solar spectrum. Then we could more effectively use the entire spectrum of incident light to work towards the overall goal of a sustainable solar liquid fuel,” said MacDonnell.
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The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Robert A. Welch Foundation.