|ELCAT uses catalysts within carbon nanotubes for the photoelectrochemical conversion of CO2 to hydrocarbon fuels.|
They agreed that the project had proven the feasibility of gas-phase CO2 conversion in a catalytic process that recycles carbon dioxide into liquid hydrocarbons and alcohols. However, they said that more work is needed before the technology can be put into operation.
The idea behind the ELCAT project, which received around €85,000 in funding under the New and emerging science and technologies (NEST) theme of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), was born when researchers at the University of Messina, Italy, observed an electrocatalytic reaction which could be carried out at room temperature and atmospheric pressure: With carbon dioxide confined inside carbon micropores, and electrons and protons flowing to an active catalyst—noble-metal nanoclusters—gaseous carbon dioxide was reduced to a series of hydrocarbons and alcohols.
The products of the reaction were surprisingly similar to those of the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. A process that could generate FT-like products in useful quantities—an outcome that cannot be achieved without some difficulty in the FT process—at room temperature and atmospheric pressure could help to considerably reduce carbon dioxide and at the same time generate new raw materials. However, this catalytic reaction created new problems, namely a quick deactivation of the catalyst and poor productivity. In addition, it is a case of gas-phase electrocatalysis, a phenomenon which has barely been studied by scientists, as the focus has traditionally been on the liquid phase.
Three organizations are involved in addition to the University of Messina, Italy: Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany; Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France; and University of Patras in Patras, Greece.
The project partners are determined to continue their work, even though the ELCAT project is ends at the end of February. According to their estimates, electrocatalytic gas-phase conversion of CO2 could be ready for application in about 10 years, and could help to cut global CO2 emissions by 5%, complementing other strategies.
Carbon storage has its limitations because there are space limitations and in this case, we try to convert this greenhouse gas directly to fuel. Therefore, it’s complementary. But I think it’s much better to convert than to store.—Siglinda Perathoner of the University of Messina