A New Way to Make Useful Chemicals from CO2

Posted on February 1, 2010 

A New Way to Make Useful Chemicals from CO2

A copper-based catalyst helps turn the gas into antifreeze and household cleaners.

When it’s exposed to the elements, the surface of copper turns green because it reacts with oxygen. But now scientists have discovered a copper-based material with a surprising property: it reacts with carbon dioxide in air rather than oxygen. Though the reaction is not a practical way to remove large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it does provide an alternative new route, using a cheap, nonpetroleum feedstock, to make useful chemicals.

Researchers have been looking for such a material for a long time, taking a cue from plants, which use atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce a wide range of useful materials. But previous approaches have fallen short in a variety of ways. For example, they’ve required large amounts of energy and concentrated streams of carbon dioxide rather than the trace amounts found in air. One of the big challenges is that materials tend to preferentially react with oxygen, which is much more reactive than carbon dioxide and far more abundant. Oxygen makes up over 20 percent of the atmosphere, whereas there are only a few hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide.


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