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Carbon Dioxide: The Newest Form of Renewable Energy?

James Murphy. The New American

Move over wind farms. Step aside acres of solar panels. There’s a new renewable energy source coming down the pike, and it has the potential to put the others out of business. And, ironically, it’s the climate alarmists’ biggest demon. It’s carbon dioxide.

A schematic illustration showing how liquid metal is used as a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into solid coal. Credit: RMIT University

Carbon sequestration, as the process is called, removes CO2 from the atmosphere and turns it into a solid form, namely coal, in order to be able to store it safely back in the ground where it came from. 

A research team led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, has discovered a new method of taking carbon dioxide in its gas form and converting it into solid coal. The discovery has the potential to completely change the way people regard the carbon dioxide that humans release into the atmosphere. The paper detailing how the feat was accomplished was published on February 26 in Nature Communications.

“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 Dr. Torben Daeneke, a research scientist at RMIT University.

Methods of carbon sequestration already exist, but those methods are technically and economically challenging. Major oil companies and energy concerns such as Shell are currently spending a fortune on projects aimed at removing atmospheric CO2 from the air, but those processes involve turning CO2 into a liquid form and injecting it back into rock formations. The process is so expensive that even major companies can’t afford it without government subsidies. 

While this is not the first time that scientists have been able to turn CO2 into coal, previous methods required extremely high temperatures and were not viable outside a laboratory setting. The new method can be accomplished at room temperature.

“To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable,” Daeneke said.

But the researchers found a way around the extreme temperature problem. “By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scaleable,” Daeneke said.

The liquid metal catalyst was developed by the researchers with specific surface properties, making it extremely efficient at conducting electricity, while chemically activating the surface.

According to the press release: “The carbon dioxide is dissolved in a beaker with an electrolyte liquid and a small amount of the liquid metal, which is then charged with an electric current. The CO2 slowly converts into solid flakes of carbon, which are naturally detached from the liquid metal surface, allowing the continuous production of carbonaceous solid.”

And, yes, the process has the potential to yield a future energy source. The carbon produced may be able to be used as an electrode.

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