A gasoline station on Mars? Chemical engineers envision the probabilities.
Engineers on the College of Cincinnati are growing new methods to transform greenhouse gases to gasoline to deal with local weather change and get astronauts residence from Mars.
UC School of Engineering and Utilized Science assistant professor Jingjie Wu and his college students used a carbon catalyst in a reactor to transform carbon dioxide into methane. Referred to as the “Sabatier response” from the late French chemist Paul Sabatier, it’s a course of the Worldwide House Station makes use of to wash the carbon dioxide from air the astronauts breathe and generate rocket gasoline to maintain the station in excessive orbit.
However Wu is pondering a lot greater.
The Martian ambiance consists virtually totally of carbon dioxide. Astronauts may save half the gasoline they want for a return journey residence by making what they want on the purple planet as soon as they arrive, Wu mentioned.
“It’s like a gasoline station on Mars. You might simply pump carbon dioxide by way of this reactor and produce methane for a rocket,” Wu mentioned.
UC’s examine was revealed in the journal Nature Communications with collaborators from Rice College, Shanghai College, and East China College of Science and Expertise.
Wu started his profession in chemical engineering by finding out gasoline cells for electrical autos however started carbon dioxide conversion in his chemical engineering lab about 10 years in the past.
“I noticed that greenhouse gases have been going to be a giant situation in society,” Wu mentioned. “Quite a lot of international locations realized that carbon dioxide is a giant situation for the sustainable growth of our society. That’s why I feel we have to obtain carbon neutrality.”
The Biden Administration has set a purpose of reaching a 50% discount in greenhouse gasoline pollution by 2030 and an financial system that depends on renewable vitality by 2050.
“Which means we’ll need to recycle carbon dioxide,” Wu mentioned.
Wu and his college students, together with lead creator and UC doctoral candidate Tianyu Zhang, are experimenting with completely different catalysts akin to graphene quantum dots — layers of carbon simply nanometers large — that may enhance the yield of methane.
“Proper now we now have extra inexperienced vitality that we simply throw away. We will retailer this extra renewable vitality in chemical substances.”
— Jingjie Wu, UC assistant professor of chemical engineering
Wu mentioned the method holds promise to assist mitigate local weather change. However it additionally has a giant business benefit in producing gasoline as a byproduct.
“The method is 100 occasions extra productive than it was simply 10 years in the past. So you possibly can think about that progress will come sooner and sooner,” Wu mentioned. “Within the subsequent 10 years, we’ll have a whole lot of startup corporations to commercialize this system.”
Wu’s college students are utilizing completely different catalysts to provide not solely methane however ethylene. Referred to as the world’s most vital chemical, ethylene is used within the manufacture of plastics, rubber, artificial clothes, and different merchandise.
“Inexperienced vitality might be crucial. Sooner or later, it’ll characterize an enormous market. So I needed to work on it,” Zhang mentioned.
Synthesizing gasoline from carbon dioxide turns into much more commercially viable when coupled with renewable vitality akin to photo voltaic or wind energy, Wu mentioned.
“Proper now we now have extra inexperienced vitality that we simply throw away. We will retailer this extra renewable vitality in chemical substances,” he mentioned.
The method is scalable to be used in energy vegetation that may generate tons of carbon dioxide. And it’s environment friendly because the conversion can happen proper the place extra carbon dioxide is produced.
Wu mentioned advances in gasoline manufacturing from carbon dioxide make him extra assured that people will set foot on Mars in his lifetime.
“Proper now if you wish to come again from Mars, you would wish to deliver twice as a lot gasoline, which may be very heavy,” he mentioned. “And sooner or later, you’ll want different fuels. So we will produce methanol from carbon dioxide and use them to provide different downstream supplies. Then possibly at some point we may dwell on Mars.”
Reference: “Regulation of useful teams on graphene quantum dots directs selective CO2 to CH4 conversion” by Tianyu Zhang, Weitao Li, Kai Huang, Huazhang Guo, Zhengyuan Li, Yanbo Fang, Ram Manohar Yadav, Vesselin Shanov, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Liang Wang, Cheng Lian and Jingjie Wu, 6 September 2021, Nature Communications.
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