Chemical Climate CombatWednesday 2nd July 2014
Researchers looking to combat climate change caused through increasing greenhouse gas emissions look at three areas: developing alternative energy sources with lower emissions; carbon capture and storage; capturing carbon and repurposing it.
Drawing on two of these approaches, researchers in the laboratory of Andrew Bocarsly, a Princeton professor of chemistry, collaborated with researchers at start-up company Liquid Light Inc. of Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, to devise an efficient method for harnessing sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into a potential alternative fuel - formic acid.
The transformation from carbon dioxide and water to formic acid was powered by a commercial solar panel. The process takes place inside an electrochemical cell, which consists of metal plates the size of rectangular lunch-boxes that enclose liquid-carrying channels.
To maximize the efficiency of the system, the amount of power produced by the solar panel must match the amount of power the electrochemical cell can handle, said Bocarsly. This optimization process is called impedance matching. By stacking three electrochemical cells together, the research team were able to reach almost 2% energy efficiency, which is twice the efficiency of natural photosynthesis. It is also the highest energy efficiency reported to date using a man-made device.
A number of energy companies are interested in storing solar energy as formic acid in fuel cells. Additionally, formate salt—readily made from formic acid—is the preferred de-icing agent on airplane runways because it is less corrosive to planes and safer for the environment than chloride salts. With increased availability, formate salts could supplant more harmful salts in widespread use.
Using waste carbon dioxide and easily obtained machined parts, this approach offers a promising route to a renewable fuel.
Source: Princeton University.
Wednesday 2nd July 2014