Science & Technology

Researchers convert carbon dioxide in to coal

Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have for the first time developed a process to turn CO2 into coal. The new process uses liquid metal as a catalyst to permanently and safely convert CO2 into a solid form for storing

Published: Thursday 28 February 2019

A team of researchers from Melbourne, Australia may have come up with the most practical panacea for global warming. They have managed to engineer gaseous CO2 into solid carbon using liquid metal as a catalyst. This research which was published in the journal Nature Communications can become an efficient and safe way to remove atmospheric carbon.

Researchers from the RMIT University, have managed to solve a problem which scientists have been grappling with for a long time. "While we can't literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock," said Torben Daeneke, an RMIT researcher in a media release.

The best technology thus far was CCS or carbon capture and storage. CCS which was first pushed as a fix for sequestration of greenhouse gasses was later dubbed as technologically unsound. The process involved capturing the gas, liquidifying it and injecting it deep underground. It was complicated, and there were widespread concerns about its economic viability and environmental soundness. There were also concerns about the possibility of leakages.

“To convert CO2,” the media release said, “the researchers designed a liquid metal catalyst with specific surface properties that made it extremely efficient at conducting electricity while chemically activating the surface. The carbon dioxide is dissolved in a beaker filled with an electrolyte liquid and a small amount of the liquid metal, which is then charged with an electrical current.”

Earlier attempts to convert CO2 into solid carbon have involved using very high temperatures, which is not possible when done at an industrial scale. But in this new process, CO2 can be converted to coal at room temperature making it an applicable technology.

Another advantage of this process is that the carbon produced can be used as electrodes.

“A side benefit of the process is that the carbon can hold an electrical charge, becoming a supercapacitor, so it could potentially be used as a component in future vehicles,” said Dr Dorna Esrafilzadeh, a Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in RMIT's School of Engineering, and lead in this project.

The carbon got from this process can also be used to make synthetic industrial fuel.

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