Research chemists replace gold with iron in new catalyst

Shane McGlaun - Jun 14, 2019, 7:07am CDT
Research chemists replace gold with iron in new catalyst

The issue with burning fossil fuels in vehicles is that when the fuels burn, carbon dioxide is produced and released into the air contributing to pollution. Researchers are at work on synthetic fuels that are known as carbon-neutral fuels that would be better for the environment. Chemists working on these synthetic fuels recently made a significant breakthrough.

The breakthrough is a high-efficiency catalyst that converts dissolved CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO). CO is an essential ingredient for all synthetic fuel, plastic, and other materials. The researchers say that their new process is just as efficient as previous technologies, but has one major benefit.

In the past, catalysts have used atoms of precious materials like gold. The new catalyst replaces that gold with iron as a catalyst. Researcher Professor Xile Hu says that at extremely low currents, the new process with iron has a conversion rate of CO2 to CO of around 90%. That means it performs on par with precious-metal catalysts.

Hu says that the new converter has such a high percentage of conversion to CO because the iron atoms are successfully stabilized. The scientists note that the work they are performing is still very experimental. However, they say that the work paves the way for new applications in the future. Right now, most of the CO needed to make synthetic fuels is obtained from petroleum.

Recycling CO produced by burning fossil fuels would help preserve the resource and limit CO2 production. The team says that the process could also be combined with storage batteries and hydrogen-production tech to convert surplus renewable power into products to fill the gap when demand is greater than supply. The researchers do not indicate when any commercial uses for their tech might arrive.

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