New reactor uses renewable energy to convert fossil fuels into battery fuel


Greenhouse gases could be converted into efficient and environmentally friendly means of generating power with an electrolyser that uses renewable energy to produce liquid fuel.


The reactor, produced by the Rice University Lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Haotian Wang, uses carbon dioxide as its feedstock and- in its latest test- develops highly purified and concentrated formic acid.

Formic acid is usually produced by carbon dioxide devices requires expensive and energy intensive purification steps, says Wang.

The method is detailed in Nature Energy.

Wang and his group pursue technologies that turn greenhouse gases into useful products. In tests, the new electrocatalyst reached an energy conversion efficiency of about 42%. That means nearly half of the electrical energy can be stored in formic acid as liquid fuel.

“Formic acid is an energy carrier,” Wang said. “It’s a fuel-cell fuel that can generate electricity and emit carbon dioxide—which you can grab and recycle again.

“It’s also fundamental in the chemical engineering industry as a feedstock for other chemicals, and a storage material for hydrogen that can hold nearly 1,000 times the energy of the same volume of hydrogen gas, which is difficult to compress,” he said. “That’s currently a big challenge for hydrogen fuel-cell cars.”


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