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Researchers find simpler way to convert CO2 and water directly into renewable liquid hydrocarbon

EBR Staff Writer Published 23 February 2016

Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) have developed a one-step process to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into useable liquid hydrocarbon fuels.


The process, which is called as photothermochemical alkane reverse combustion, involves conversion of carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbons and oxygen using a photothermochemical flow reactor operating at180 to 200 C and pressures up to 6 atmospheres.

Claimed to be simple and inexpensive, the new sustainable fuels technology uses light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single step.

UTA mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Brian Dennis said: "Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process."

As a byproduct of the reaction, oxygen is reverted back into the system with a clear positive environmental impact, researchers said.

UTA interim chair of chemistry and biochemistry Frederick MacDonnell said: "Our process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system."

For the experiment, researchers used a hybrid photochemical and thermochemical catalyst which is based on titanium dioxide, a white powder which cannot absorb the entire visible light spectrum.

UTA research vice-president Duane Dimos said: "Discovering a one-step process to generate renewable hydrocarbon fuels from carbon dioxide and water is a huge achievement."

The researchers are now planning to develop a photo-catalyst to match with the solar spectrum to allow the use of entire spectrum of incident light more effectively and work towards the goal of a sustainable solar liquid fuel.

Meanwhile, the team is also focusing on converting natural gas for use as high-grade diesel and jet fuel.

Image: Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington. Photo: courtesy of The University of Texas at Arlington.