While debates in U.S. election focused on such issues as email servers and immigration phobia, critics have pointed out that the most important single issue faced by the global community was virtually ignored by the nominees during the campaign. Fortunately, scientists at MIT, the University of Toronto, and the United States’ Oak Ridge National Laboratories have continue their ongoing work of finding ways to mitigate the impact of global warming to prevent a global ecological disaster.

Clean energy research revolves around finding energy sources that won’t add to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases refer to gases such as carbon dioxide that cause a buildup of heat in the atmosphere by trapping incoming heat from sunlight, creating a spiral effect of rising temperatures and greenhouse gas buildup. Most current energy sources contribute to this problem, but what if an energy source could be created that not only doesn’t add to the greenhouse effect, but actually converts troublesome carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into clean fuel?

Researchers at MIT and the University of Toronto have added to earlier research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in offering some promising results.

Researchers at MIT are working on a catalyst that can selectively break carbon dioxide, or CO2 down to carbon monoxide, which is a constituent part of other potentially cleaner fuels. Researchers there have emphasized that their work only takes carbon dioxide through the first stage of conversion, but that the resulting carbon monoxide can then be processed more easily into the desired material.  Eventually, the MIT researchers hope, conversion plants would be integrated with existing fossil-fuel power plants to intercept and convert the emissions on the spot rather than releasing CO2 into the atmosphere at all.

The University of Toronto is testing a similar process using silicon nanocrystals – also known as nanostructured hydrides – to catalyze the reaction. The nanocrystals’ size and optical absorption strength enables it to harvest near-infrared, visible, and ultraviolet sunlight, while a chemical-reducing agent on the surface of the crystal converts CO2 to carbon monoxide, successfully accomplishing that important first step of converting carbon dioxide gas to carbon monoxide. University of Toronto researchers have published their findings in “Nature Communications,” a journal published by Macmillan Publishers online. The lead author of the study, Canada Research Chair in Materials Chemistry, Geoffrey Ozin, described this reduction process as a sophisticated form of solar energy:

“Making use of the reducing power of nanostructured hydrides is a conceptually distinct and commercially interesting strategy for making fuels directly from sunlight,” said Ozin.

Both these developments follow progress at the Oak Ridge Laboratory in Tennessee, where researchers used tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide directly into ethanol this past October.

Together, these developments point to a future in which technological developments are able to offset political setbacks when it comes to mitigating damage from greenhouse gas emissions.

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