Abstract illustration of atoms passing through water and an electrified membrane under a shining sun.
Illustration: Meenesh Singh.
A team of researchers led by Meenesh Singh at University of Illinois Chicago has discovered a way to convert 100% of carbon dioxide captured from industrial exhaust into ethylene, a key building block for plastic products.
Their findings are published in Cell Reports Physical Science.
While researchers have been exploring the possibility of converting carbon dioxide to ethylene for more than a decade, the UIC team’s approach is the first to achieve nearly 100% utilization of carbon dioxide to produce hydrocarbons. Their system uses electrolysis to transform captured carbon dioxide gas into high purity ethylene, with other carbon-based fuels and oxygen as byproducts.
The process can convert up to 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide into 1 metric ton of ethylene, recycling almost all carbon dioxide captured. Because the system runs on electricity, the use of renewable energy can make the process carbon negative.
According to Singh, his team’s approach surpasses the net-zero carbon goal of other carbon capture and conversion technologies by actually reducing the total carbon dioxide output from industry. “It’s a net negative,” he said. “For every 1 ton of ethylene produced, you’re taking 6 tons of CO2 from point sources that otherwise would be released to the atmosphere.”
Previous attempts at converting carbon dioxide into ethylene have relied on reactors that produce ethylene within the source carbon dioxide emission stream. In these cases, as little as 10% of CO2 emissions typically converts to ethylene. The ethylene must later be separated from the carbon dioxide in an energy-intensive process often involving fossil fuels.
In UIC’s approach, an electric current is passed through a cell, half of which is filled with captured carbon dioxide, the other half with a water-based solution. An electrified catalyst draws charged hydrogen atoms from the water molecules into the other half of the unit separated by a membrane, where they combine with charged carbon atoms from the carbon dioxide molecules to form ethylene.
Among manufactured chemicals worldwide, ethylene ranks third for carbon emissions after ammonia and cement. Ethylene is used not only to create plastic products for the packaging, agricultural and automotive industries, but also to produce chemicals used in antifreeze, medical sterilizers and vinyl siding for houses.
Ethylene is usually made in a process called steam cracking that requires enormous amounts of heat. Cracking generates about 1.5 metric tons of carbon emissions per ton of ethylene created. On average, manufacturers produce around 160 million tons of ethylene each year, which results in more than 260 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.
In addition to ethylene, the UIC scientists were able to produce other carbon-rich products useful to industry with their electrolysis approach. They also achieved a very high solar energy conversion efficiency, converting 10% of energy from the solar panels directly to carbon product output. This is well above the state-of-the-art standard of 2%. For all the ethylene they produced, the solar energy conversion efficiency was around 4%, approximately the same rate as photosynthesis.
More from: University of Illinois at Chicago
The Latest Updates from Bing News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
CO2 to ethylene
- Towards the selective and energy-efficient synthesis of ethylene via carbon dioxide reduction
The synthesis of carbon-based chemicals via the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) has become the key objective of numerous recent energy research efforts. While these studies have ...
- Why the oil industry may thrive without gasoline
A longtime industry product — petrochemicals — is getting a renewed boost from the shift to low-carbon energy.
- Germany to allow carbon transport, sub-seabed storage, minister says
Under the new law changes, transportation of CO2 and its storage in sub-seabed areas will be allowed, with the exception of protected marine zones, Habeck added. On-land carbon storage will remain ...
- Germany plans to enable underground storage of carbon dioxide at offshore sites
Europe's biggest economy is making good progress with expanding renewable energy sources and usage, but a solution is needed for the carbon dioxide emitted by some sectors such as the cement ...
- DCTIF Delta CleanTech Inc.
which offers reclaiming amine-based solvents used in natural gas processing and CO2 capturing processes; and reclaiming glycols, such as mono-ethylene glycol and tri-ethylene glycol used for ...
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Carbon capture conversion
- E.P.A. to Exempt Existing Gas Plants From Tough New Rules, for Now
The Environmental Protection Agency will exempt existing gas-fired plants, at least for now, from a new regulation that would require power plants in the United States to capture their carbon dioxide ...
- Mercury rising: Study sheds new light on ancient volcanoes' environmental impact
Massive volcanic events in Earth's history that released large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere frequently correlate with periods of severe environmental change and mass extinctions. A new method ...
- Technip Energies Full Year 2023 Financial Results
Effective tax rate on an adjusted IFRS basis was 29.9% for the full year 2023, consistent with the top-end of the 2023 guidance range of 26% - 30%. The slight increase in the effective tax rate ...
- Ship-based carbon capture and microwave EV range boosters: The best green innovations of February 2024
Discover the latest innovations in clean technology, from range-extending solutions for electric cars to solar-efficient tech. Explore how cleantech is tackling climate change and boosting ...
- Toyota Testing Car That Sucks CO2 Out of the Atmosphere While It Drives
Carbon Capture For people dismayed by all-electric vehicles due to their battery issues, the future seems pretty bleak as state governments all over consider strict regulations that would limit the ...