Catalyst cuts steps in capture and conversion of CO2

A chemical engineer has received funding to further develop a catalyst that captures and converts carbon dioxide into valuable products in a single step.

Illinois Institute of Technology Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Mohammad Asadi has received $1.9m from the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) to scale up his process. 

“Once we capture the carbon dioxide, we can convert it to other carbon-based products, such as ethanol, which is the main chemical behind many disinfectants,” Asadi said in a statement. “It has a billion-dollar market. It’s one of those key chemicals used in many, many processes and applications.”

The process is centred on a catalyst developed by Asadi developed. He has also received $546,868 from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to further investigate the science behind how the catalyst works, with the aim of optimising its effectiveness and exploring whether utilising the same technique may improve other common electrocatalytic processes.

Existing processes capture and convert carbon dioxide in separate steps, but Asadi’s catalyst develops this idea by facilitating the capture and conversion in one step, which reduces the complexity and cost of the process.

“We can basically eliminate all the costs usually associated with the capturing process, which includes transporting and storing the carbon dioxide before it gets converted. We expect it to reduce the cost of the process from the current price of $60 to $100 per ton to $40 per ton or less,” said Asadi. 

Related content

Catalyst converts carbon dioxide into fuel

While traditional catalysts for this process use costly metals such as gold, Asadi’s catalyst utilises low-cost transition metals, modified with an organic compound that enhances the reaction. 

“We use a very sophisticated multi-material catalyst with both metal and non-metal elements and with an organic material called a ligand. It makes the structure of the surface of the catalyst very sophisticated, carbon dioxide absorption very spontaneous, and carbon-carbon coupling fast, low energy, and efficient,” said Asadi.

Having shown it performs exceptionally well in the lab, with high reaction rates and efficiency, Asadi is said to be ready to take on scaling up the process.

“There are some engineering challenges involved, and we will use an interdisciplinary research team in order to make the process economically feasible,” said Asadi. “The idea is to make the process tuneable with the different types of point sources coming in as the carbon dioxide source, such as sources with different percentages of carbon dioxide or if the carbon dioxide is mixed with impurities as is the case with flue gas.”

In studies so far, Asadi has found that the catalyst is highly selective for carbon dioxide and able to extract it without introducing impurities. This is useful for creating a high-purity ethanol end product, whereas current versions of this process have to take time, money, and energy to purify ethanol in an additional step.