19 February 2020
Catalysing carbon capture
Published online 14 February 2020
An exceptionally effective catalyst converts carbon dioxide into fuels, offering profits while combatting global warming.
A solution to the rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels that threaten disastrous global warming is to capture it from the atmosphere and put it to good use. Many research groups have been trying to develop catalysts to combine CO2 with methane and produce the mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas. In addition to generating hydrogen for use as a fuel, syngas can be further converted into the diesel fuel substitute dimethyl ether. Unfortunately, the catalysts can be damaged by sintering and the accumulation of surface carbon.
An international team, led by Cafer Yavuz at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and including researchers at Saudi Aramco, has developed a catalyst that avoids these problems while operating efficiently over prolonged periods.
The scientists incorporated nanograins of nickel-molybdenum catalyst onto the edges of magnesium oxide crystals. This novel arrangement is called nanocatalysts on single crystal edges (NOSCE).
“Our biggest challenge was to explain why our catalyst worked so well,” says Yavuz. “With this much activity, we can foresee many gigatons of CO₂ being consumed.”
After taking over a year to prove that NOSCE existed and to understand its properties, the researchers are now working with Saudi Aramco and other partners to commercialize the technology.
A great advantage over other carbon capture options is that the catalyst will generate profit by making useful chemicals, rather than just achieving an expensive remediation process.
Song, Y. et al. Dry reforming of methane by stable Ni-Mo nanocatalysts on single-crystalline MgO. Science 367, 777–781 (2020).