Sustainable energy breakthrough: Simple conversion of CO2 and water into liquid hydrocarbon fuels

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A breakthrough in the way carbon dioxide and water can be converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuels in a one-step process, has been revealed by University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) researchers. The scientists have proven that concentrated light, heat and high pressures can be made to drive this type of reaction.

This sustainable fuels technology raises new hope of combating global warming in two major ways. For starters, it could be harnessed to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Secondly, a byproduct of the reaction is oxygen. The process is simple, and inexpensive too.

“We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water,” explained Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the project.

Concentrated light powers the photochemical reaction, producing high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions. This enables the synthesis of hydrocarbons in a one-step process. There may be no need to tweak the present fuel distribution system in order to accommodate the UTA scientists’ latest tech.

UTA Researchers

This is because several hydrocarbon products from the reaction mentioned above are already being used in automobiles, trucks and airplanes. It is one of the main advantages that the process claims to have over today’s battery and gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies. Of course, the single-step method requires further refining.

For one, the titanium dioxide-based hybrid photochemical and thermochemical catalyst employed in the experiment cannot absorb the entire visible light spectrum. Creating a photo-catalyst capable of using the whole spectrum of incident light to work its magic is the next step towards obtaining sustainable liquid hydrocarbon fuels through this process.

Over the past four years, UTA’s Brian Dennis and Frederick MacDonnell have been given over $2.6 million in grants and corporate funding for furthering research in sustainable energy. One of their current projects involves converting natural gas for use as high-grade diesel and jet fuel.