Thanks to Al Gore, we all know by now about the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resulting impact on global climate. Now, 2 researchers from UCSD have developed a prototype device that can capture energy from the sun, convert it to electrical energy and “split” carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen.
Although carbon monoxide is poisonous, it is highly sought after. Millions of pounds of it are used each year to manufacture chemicals including detergents and plastics. It can also be converted into liquid fuel in the form of methanol.
“The technology to convert carbon monoxide into liquid fuel has been around a long time,” said Clifford Kubiak, one of the researchers. “It was invented in Germany in the 1920s. The U.S. was very interested in the technology during the 1970s energy crisis, but when the energy crisis ended people lost interest. Now things have come full circle because rising fuel prices make it economically competitive to convert CO into fuel.”
Their prototype works by turning the solar energy into electrical energy. The energy created is used to activate two layers of catalysts which then convert the CO2 into Oxygen and Carbon Monoxide. The technique itself is not new; there are plenty of scientific papers that speak about similar proposals. The aim of this particular prototype is to get it to a stage that allows for this to work purely by solar, something which the current prototype does not do.
This is a promising idea that could help alleviate two environmental problems at the same time: potentially decreasing carbon emissions while also generating renewable energy for transportation and electricity.