Making catalysts to convert waste carbon dioxide into useful industrial products has been expensive and complicated – until now. Australian engineers have shown it’s as easy as playing with Lego.
Chemical engineers from UNSW Sydney have developed new technology that helps convert harmful carbon dioxide emissions into chemical building blocks to make useful industrial products like fuel and plastics.
And if adopted on a large scale, the process could give the world breathing space as it transitions towards a green economy.
In a paper published today in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, Dr Rahman Daiyan and Dr Emma Lovell from UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering detail a way of creating nanoparticles that promote conversion of waste carbon dioxide into useful industrial components.
The researchers, who carried out their work in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory led by Scientia Professor Rose Amal, show that by making zinc oxide at very high temperatures using a technique called flame spray pyrolysis (FSP), they can create nanoparticles which act as the catalyst for turning carbon dioxide into ‘syngas’ – a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide used in the manufacture of industrial products. The researchers say this method is cheaper and more scalable to the requirements of heavy industry than what is available today.
“We used an open flame, which burns at 2000 degrees, to create nanoparticles of zinc oxide that can then be used to convert CO2, using electricity, into syngas,” says Dr Lovell.
“Syngas is often considered the chemical equivalent of Lego because the two building blocks – hydrogen and carbon monoxide – can be used in different ratios to make things like synthetic diesel, methanol, alcohol or plastics, which are very important industrial precursors.
“So essentially what we’re doing is converting CO2 into these precursors that can be used to make all these vital industrial chemicals.”