Researchers Just Found a Way to Turn CO2 Into Plastic With Unprecedented Efficiency


Researchers have developed catalysts that can convert carbon dioxide—the main cause of global warming—into plastics, fabrics, resins, and other products.

The electrocatalysts are the first materials, aside from enzymes, that can turn carbon dioxide and water into carbon building blocks containing one, two, three, or four carbon atoms with more than 99 percent efficiency.

Two of the products—methylglyoxal (C3) and 2,3-furandiol (C4)—can be used as precursors for plastics, adhesives, and pharmaceuticals. Toxic formaldehyde could be replaced by methylglyoxal, which is safer.

(Karin Calvinho/Rutgers University-New Brunswick)

The discovery, based on the chemistry of artificial photosynthesis, is detailed in the journal Energy & Environmental Science .

“Our breakthrough could lead to the conversion of carbon dioxide into valuable products and raw materials in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries,” says senior author Charles Dismukes, a professor in the chemistry and chemical biology department and the biochemistry and microbiology department at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

He is also a principal investigator at Rutgers’ Waksman Institute of Microbiology.

Previously, scientists showed that carbon dioxide can be electrochemically converted into methanol, ethanol, methane, and ethylene with relatively high yields.

But such production is inefficient and too costly to be commercially feasible, according to lead author Karin Calvinho, a chemistry doctoral student.

Using five catalysts made of nickel and phosphorus, which are cheap and abundant, however, researchers can electrochemically convert carbon dioxide and water into a wide array of carbon-based products, she says.

The choice of catalyst and other conditions determine how many carbon atoms can be stitched together to make molecules or even generate longer polymers. In general, the longer the carbon chain, the more valuable the product.

The next step is to learn more about the underlying chemical reaction, so it can be used to produce other valuable products such as diols, which are widely used in the polymer industry, or hydrocarbons that can be used as renewable fuels. The researchers are designing, building, and testing electrolyzers for commercial use.

Based on their work, the researchers have earned patents for the electrocatalysts and formed RenewCO₂, a start-up company.

The research has been published in the journal  Energy & Environmental Science .

Source: Rutgers University

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Innovative Navy-funded drone is master of the air and water: Rutgers University


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A propeller-driven drone that can fly both in the air and underwater is in development at Rutgers University— a unique vehicle that caught the eye of the U.S. Navy and could be used in search-and-rescue operations and underwater inspections.

The amphibious drone can emerge from the water and then fly through the air, and vice versa, meaning that operators could dispatch it from dry land, send it into water to take a look around, and then bring it back.

F. Javier Diaz, a Rutgers University professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, explained that the breakthrough in the project’s development came when they decided to give the drone two sets of propellers, one above the other. That helps with the tricky transition from the water to air and back again. While one set of propellers struggles at the air-surface interface, the other set, either all the way in the air or water, works more effectively.

“I think what really impresses people, is how easily it gets out of the water,” Diaz told FoxNews.com. “That’s really where the magic occurs.”

The concept behind the drone is that it could, for example, be launched from shore to inspect underwater portions of a bridge, an oil platform, or a car sunk in a lake or river. This concept promises to be faster that the traditional method of sending a diver out to do an inspection, Diaz said.

The device garnered the interest of the Office of Naval Research, which grantedthe project over half a million dollars last year. “I came to them, showed them the video,” Diaz recounted. “And they were like, ‘We’ve only seen this in movies. We want it.’”

Currently, the drone needs a communications tether, because of the difficulties of talking with the drone underwater— an especially difficult task in a pool, where the walls cause signals to bounce.