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Waste to Fuel Surprise: Researchers Accidentally Convert Carbon Dioxide into Ethanol
Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists have developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. Their finding, which involves nanofabrication and catalysis science, was unexpected. "??We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked,"?%9D said ORNL"s Adam Rondinone. "??We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own."?%9D The team used a catalyst made of carbon, copper, and nitrogen and applied voltage to trigger a complicated chemical reaction that essentially reverses the combustion process. With the help of the nanotechnology-based catalyst which contains multiple reaction sites, the solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63 percent. Typically, this type of electrochemical reaction results in a mix of several different products in small amounts. The catalyst"s novelty lies in its nanoscale structure, consisting of copper nanoparticles embedded in carbon spikes. This nano-texturing approach avoids the use of expensive or rare metals such as platinum that limit the economic viability of many catalysts.
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