Chemists from Canada have learned to turn the air into ethylene

© Photo : Laura PedersenКатализатор, turning carbon dioxide into ethyleneChemists from Canada have learned to turn the air into ethylene© Photo : Laura PedersenПодпишись to daily updates RIA Science

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Scientists from the University of Toronto have created a catalyst that can turn molecules of carbon dioxide to ethylene, a feedstock for manufacturing polyethylene and gas welding machines. The «recipe» for manufacturing was published in the journal Science.

«We already knew for many years that this reaction accelerates in an alkaline environment, but nobody ever tried to use it to check how effective it is in practice in this case. We have implemented this idea and showed how to overcome all the technical problems,» said Cao tan Dinh (Cao-Thang Dinh) from the University of Toronto (Canada).

In recent years, scientists are actively trying to find a way of turning atmospheric CO2 into biofuel and other useful substances. For example, in July 2016 physics from Chicago have created a solar cell which directly uses light energy to split CO2 and production of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and in October their colleagues from the National laboratory in Oak ridge have created a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into ethanol, normal alcohol.

All these catalysts and systems «transmutation» of the air in the alcohol can help not only solve the problem of providing humanity completely «green» fuel, but to find cheaper sources of raw materials for the production of chemicals, polymers, plastics and other materials, which today are made from oil and gas.

Dinh and his colleagues have several years of work on the creation of catalysts that would be directly converted CO2 to ethylene. Today it occupies a leading role in the chemical industry each year, oil and gas companies produce about 150 million tons of ethylene, most of which is converted into polyethylene and other polymeric compounds.

Such are the properties of copper nanoparticles, but they have two problems – they make only small part of molecules of CO2 in ethylene and consume a lot of electricity.

In the early 1990s, says Dinh, the scientists noticed that the efficiency of such catalysts rises sharply, if you put them in a solution of alkali. This, however, creates a new set of problems – copper nanoparticles started to deteriorate quickly and overgrown side reaction products, which dramatically reduced the effectiveness of their work within 30-40 minutes after startup of the reactor.

Canadian scientists get rid of this problem, «hiding» a thin plate of copper in a kind of sandwich of several sheets of graphite, carbon nanotubes and Teflon nanocylinders. This design does not interfere with the CO2 molecules to penetrate inside the catalyst, but defended it from destruction.

As shown by the first experiments, this design collapses to 15 times slower than copper nanoparticles, and it has higher efficiency and less «gluttony». According to chemists, about 70% of electricity is spent on useful work, and more than half of CO2 molecules converted into ethylene, which is not bad from a commercial point of view.

Now scientists are working to develop «industrial» version of this catalyst that would be suited to work with large quantities of CO2. Hopes Dinh, open his team will help rid the Land of «oil dependency» in the coming years.