Electrode's 'hot edges' convert CO2 gas into fuels and chemicals

Environment

A team of scientists has created a bowl-shaped electrode with 'hot edges' which can efficiently convert CO2 from gas into carbon based fuels and chemicals, helping combat the climate change threat posed by atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The research team, from the University of Bath, Fudan University, Shanghai, and the Shanghai Institute of Pollution Control and Ecological Security, hopes the catalyst design will eventually allow the use of renewable electricity to convert CO2 into fuels without creating additional atmospheric carbon - essentially acting like an electrochemical 'leaf' to convert carbon dioxide into sugars.

Using this reaction, known as the reduction of carbon dioxide, has exciting potential but two major obstacles are poor conversion efficiency of the reaction and a lack of detailed knowledge about the exact reaction pathway.

This new electrode addresses these challenges with higher conversion efficiency and sensitive detection of molecules created along the reaction's progress - thanks to its innovative shape and construction. The bowl shaped electrode works six times faster than standard planar - or flat - designs.

The bowl-like shape of the design, technically known as an "inverse opal structure" concentrates electric fields on its hot edges - the rim of the bowl - which then concentrates positively charged potassium ions on the active sites of the reaction, reducing its energy requirements.

The Copper-Indium alloy electrode can also be useful to sensitively study the reaction process via measuring the Raman signal, which is higher compared to a typical electrode.

The study is published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Professor Ventsislav Valev, from the University of Bath's Department of Physics, said: "There is no more pressing human need than breathing. Yet for hundreds of million people this most basic activity is a source of anxiety over lowering life expectancy, rising child mortality and climate change. There is evidence that CO2 increases surface ozone, carcinogens, and particulate matter, thereby increasing death, asthma, hospitalization, and cancer rates. It is therefore crucial to keep researching new ways for lowing the CO2 levels in the atmosphere."

The team wants to continue research to develop the most efficient catalyst to perform carbon reduction.

Professor Liwu Zhang, from Fudan University, said: "CO2 is causing climate change, making our planet warmer. By using clean electricity, we can convert CO2 into chemical fuels, which can be used again. This builds a cycle of CO2, with no increment of CO2 concentration and will help save our world.

"However, to improve the efficiency of transforming CO2 into chemical fuels, it is extremely important to know the reaction pathway, and find the most suitable catalyst.

"Just as plants transform CO2 into sugar we are finding suitable electrochemical 'leaf' for CO2 conversion."

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The study: "Hot edges" in an inverse opal structure enable e?cient CO2 electrochemical reduction and sensitive in situ Raman characterization" is published in Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

The study was funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People's Republic of China, and National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council(EPSRC) Centre for Doctoral Training in Condensed Matter Physics (CDT-CMP), and the Royal Society.

For further information, please contact Chris Melvin in the University of Bath Press Office on +44 (0)1225 383 941 or c.m.melvin@bath.ac.uk

Notes

University of Bath

The University of Bath is one of the UK's leading universities both in terms of research and our reputation for excellence in teaching, learning and graduate prospects.

The University is rated Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the Government's assessment of teaching quality in universities, meaning its teaching is of the highest quality in the UK.

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 research assessment 87 per cent of our research was defined as 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent'. From developing fuel efficient cars of the future, to identifying infectious diseases more quickly, or working to improve the lives of female farmers in West Africa, research from Bath is making a difference around the world. Find out more: http://www.bath.ac.uk/research/

Well established as a nurturing environment for enterprising minds, Bath is ranked highly in all national league tables. We are ranked 6th in the UK by The Guardian University Guide 2019, 5th for graduate employment in The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019, and 4th in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2018.

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