How to Convert Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into Fuels

If the CO2 content of the atmosphere is not to increase any further, carbon dioxide must be converted into something else. However, as CO2 is a very stable molecule, this can only be done with the help of special catalysts. The main problem with such catalysts has so far been their lack of stability: after a certain time, many materials lose their catalytic properties.

At TU Wien (Austria), research is being conducted on a special class of minerals – the perovskites, which have so far been used for solar cells, as anode materials or electronic components rather than for their catalytic properties. Now scientists at TU Wien have succeeded in producing a special perovskite that is excellently suited as a catalyst for converting CO2 into other useful substances, such as synthetic fuels. The new perovskite catalyst is very stable and also relatively cheap, so it would be suitable for industrial use.

We are interested in the so-called reverse water-gas shift reaction,” says Prof. Christoph Rameshan from the Institute of Materials Chemistry at TU Wien. “In this process, carbon dioxide and hydrogen are converted into water and carbon monoxide. You can then process the carbon monoxide further, for example into methanol, other chemical base materials or even into fuel.”

This reaction is not new, but it has not really been implemented on an industrial scale for CO2 utilisation. It takes place at high temperatures, which contributes to the fact that catalysts quickly break down. This is a particular problem when it comes to expensive materials, such as those containing rare metals.

Christoph Rameshan and his team investigated how to tailor a material from the class of perovskites specifically for this reaction, and he was successful: “We tried out a few things and finally came up with a perovskite made of cobalt, iron, calcium and neodymium that has excellent properties,” says Rameshan.

Because of its crystal structure, the perovskite allows certain atoms to migrate through it. For example, during catalysis, cobalt atoms from the inside of the material travel towards the surface and form tiny nanoparticles there, which are then particularly chemically active. At the same time, so-called oxygen vacancies form – positions in the crystal where an oxygen atom should actually sit. It is precisely at these vacant positions that CO2 molecules can dock particularly well, in order to then be dissociated into oxygen and carbon monoxide.

We were able to show that our perovskite is significantly more stable than other catalysts,” says Christoph Rameshan. “It also has the advantage that it can be regenerated: If its catalytic activity does wane after a certain time, you can simply restore it to its original state with the help of oxygen and continue to use it.

Initial assessments show that the catalyst is also economically promising. “It is more expensive than other catalysts, but only by about a factor of three, and it is much more durable,” says Rameshan. “We would now like to try to replace the neodymium with something else, which could reduce the cost even further.“Theoretically, you could use such technologies to get CO2 out of the atmosphere – but to do that you would first have to concentrate the carbon dioxide, and that requires a considerable amount of energy. It is therefore more efficient to first convert CO2 where it is produced in large quantities, such as in industrial plants. “You could simply add an additional reactor to existing plants that currently emit a lot of CO2, in which the CO2 is first converted into CO and then processed further,” says Christoph Rameshan. Instead of harming the climate, such an industrial plant would then generate additional benefits.


How To Extend The Charge-to-charge Life of Phones And Electric Cars By 40 %

The need to store energy for portable devices, vehicles and housing is ever increasing.The transformation from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources need to be hastened to decrease greenhouse gases and limit global warming. The utilization of wind and solar power requires effective storage system to ensure continuous energy supply as a part of smart grid. Li-ion batteries are considered to be the best route for many advanced storage applications related to the clean electricity due to their high energy density.

The latest lithium-ion batteries on the market are likely to extend the charge-to-charge life of phones and electric cars by as much as 40 percent. This leap forward, which comes after more than a decade of incremental improvements, is happening because developers replaced the battery’s graphite anode with one made from silicon. Research from Drexel University and Trinity College in Ireland now suggests that an even greater improvement could be in line if the silicon is fortified with a special type of material called MXene.

Regarding the present Li-ion batteries, one of the limiting factors in their performance is the anode material that most commonly is graphite. Silicon is a promising material for Li-ion battery anodes: By using silicon instead of graphite, the energy density of a battery cell ccould be increased by 30 %. To achieve this, several obstacles have to be overcome: First, silicon experiences a volume expansion of 300 % when lithiated. During discharging, the particles tend to fracture and lose contact. Secondly, the volume expansion prevents the formation of a stable electrode-electrolyte interface resulting in a continuous decomposition of the electrolyte. These two reasons are main causes for the limited use of silicon in commercial batteries.

The image shows PSi microparticles connected to each other with CNTs to improve the conductivity of the material

Both of the above mentioned problems with silicon material can be avoided by designing optimal porous structures of mesoporous silicon (PSi). Porosity of PSi needs to be high enough for the material to be able to withstand the volume expansion but also low enough so that the volumetric capacity/energy density is still better than for graphite anodes.


Metallic Wood

Researchers at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and the University of Cambridge have built a sheet of nickel with nanoscale pores that make it as strong as titanium, but four to five times lighter. The empty space of the pores, and the self-assembly process in which they’re made, make the porous metal akin to a natural material, such as wood. And just as the porosity of wood grain serves the biological function of transporting energy, the empty space in the researchers’ “metallic wood” could be infused with other materials. Infusing the scaffolding with anode and cathode materials would enable this metallic wood to serve double duty: a plane wing or prosthetic leg that’s also a battery. The study was led by James Pikul, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn Engineering.

Metallic wood foil on a plastic backing

The reason we call it metallic wood is not just its density, which is about that of wood, but its cellular nature,” Pikul says. “Cellular materials are porous; if you look at wood grain, that’s what you’re seeing—parts that are thick and dense and made to hold the structure, and parts that are porous and made to support biological functions, like transport to and from cells.

The study has been published in Nature Scientific Reports,


New Cathode Triples the Energy Storage of Lithium-Ion Batteries

As the demand for smartphones, electric vehicles, and renewable energy continues to rise, scientists are searching for ways to improve lithium-ion batteries—the most common type of battery found in home electronics and a promising solution for grid-scale energy storage. Increasing the energy density of lithium-ion batteries could facilitate the development of advanced technologies with long-lasting batteries, as well as the widespread use of wind and solar energy. Now, researchers have made significant progress toward achieving that goal. A collaboration led by scientists at the University of Maryland (UMD), the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the U.S. Army Research Lab have developed and studied a new cathode material that could triple the energy density of lithium-ion battery electrodes

Lithium-ion batteries consist of an anode and a cathode,” said Xiulin Fan, a scientist at UMD and one of the lead authors of the paper. “Compared to the large capacity of the commercial graphite anodes used in lithium-ion batteries, the capacity of the cathodes is far more limited. Cathode materials are always the bottleneck for further improving the energy density of lithium-ion batteries.

Scientists at UMD synthesized a new cathode material, a modified and engineered form of iron trifluoride (FeF3), which is composed of cost-effective and environmentally benign elements—iron and fluorine. Researchers have been interested in using chemical compounds like FeF3 in lithium-ion batteries because they offer inherently higher capacities than traditional cathode materials.

The materials normally used in lithium-ion batteries are based on intercalation chemistry,” said Enyuan Hu, a chemist at Brookhaven and one of the lead authors of the paper. “This type of chemical reaction is very efficient; however, it only transfers a single electron, so the cathode capacity is limited. Some compounds like FeF3 are capable of transferring multiple electrons through a more complex reaction mechanism, called a conversion reaction.

The findings are published in Nature Communications.