Converting Carbon Dioxide Into Usable Fuel

Image Credits: Leonid Ikan/Shutterstock

The Earth’s climate has been changing throughout history. Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting a lot of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals an alarming increase in carbon dioxide and of a changing climate.


The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm up. In the past few years, global warming has contributed to an 8 inch rise in sea levels. A rise in global temperature from the past century, warming of the oceans, shrinking of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, retreating glaciers and decreased snow cover from mountains all over the world, and a 30 percent increase in the ocean’s acidification.


Increase in the levels of Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the leading cause of global warming causing climate change. But, it is possible to somehow use this increased CO2 to our advantage?

Carbon Dioxide from existing coal-fire powerplants is captured and stored in an effort to reduce its exposure to the atmosphere. However, scientists are thinking of ways in which carbon dioxide can be used to make its effects less daunting. One way is to convert CO2 into something useful. A combined team of researchers discussed their discovery of a reaction that could turn CO2 into methane.

The process involves exposing a CO2 solution to irradiation by sunlight at an ambient temperature and pressure. This then triggers a molecular electro-catalysis. The CO2, after being irradiated by sunlight for several hours, is converted into methane, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen.


There are challenges to this process which question the efficiency. This process yields an 82 percent carbon monoxide byproduct and produces methane at a very slow rate of 12 grams per hour.

A possible solution is to revise the technique to a two-step process—after the initial ingredients are converted into carbon monoxide with some of that becoming methane, a second step could be used to convert the CO into more methane.

The big challenge is figuring out what exactly happens during the photochemical process. One point known to researchers is that iron (one of the initial components mixed with CO2) binds with carbon dioxide in the first part of the process. What cannot be understood is how hydrogenation of the carbon dioxide occurs.

Another factor is that the CO2 used in the study came from a canister which had purer carbon dioxide than what is found in air. This could alter the results and thus the team plans on obtaining CO2 from air and filtering out the impurities.

Carbon dioxide
Increase in atmospheric CO2 levels since the industrial revolution. Credits: NASA / Vostok ice core data / J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record

This process helps because methane is a clean source of energy. Methane, the primary component in natural gas, is a cleaner source of energy. So this method could do two things at the same time: reduce carbon emissions and supply cleaner energy.

While methane doesn’t linger as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is initially far more devastating to the climate. This is because of how effectively it absorbs heat and it could even be more harmful than CO2 if it’s allowed to leak into the atmosphere. An extreme amount of care and caution will be needed to ensure that this newly produced methane is properly stored and transferred.

Source Nature NASA

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