Scientists achieve direct electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide, raising hopes for smart carbon capture

November 28, 2018, Tokyo Institute of Technology
The CO2 reduction reaction takes place in the cathodic chamber shown on the right. Credit: Chemical Science

Chemists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have proposed an innovative way to achieve carbon capture using a rhenium-based electrocatalytic system that is capable of reducing low-concentration CO2 (even 1 percent) with high selectivity and durability, which could potentially enable direct utilization of CO2 in exhaust gases from heavy industries.

Scientists are closer to finding effective ways to reduce CO2 levels—a vital part of responding to climate change and energy efficiency challenges.

A study led by Osamu Ishitani of the Department of Chemistry, Tokyo Tech now demonstrates the advantages of applying electrocatalysis to capture low-concentration CO2.

In their study published in Chemical Science, Ishitani and colleagues including Hiromu Kumagai and Tetsuya Nishikawa drew on decades of work on honing the capabilities of a rhenium-based catalyst, and demonstrated its ability to reduce low-concentration CO2 in the presence of a chemical called triethanolamine (TEOA).

Compared to many previous studies that have focused on reducing pure CO2, few have explored how to improve direct capture of low-concentration CO2—a topic that warrants further investigation, considering that plants harness low concentrations of CO2 (about 400 ppm, that is 0.04 percent of the atmosphere) and exhaust gases from heavy industries typically contain low levels of CO2 (around 3-13 percent).

Electrocatalytic reduction of low-concentration CO2 was achieved using a rhenium-based complex with high CO2-capturing ability. Credit: Chemical Science

By avoiding the need for additional energy-consuming condensation processes, their strategy, if scaled up, could provide a more viable, environmentally friendly solution to CO2 capture in many settings.

In a series of experiments to assess electrocatalytic activity, the researchers found that at a CO2 concentration of 1 percent, the rhenium-based catalyst showed very high selectivity (94 percent) towards carbon monoxide (CO) formation.

A likely reason behind the high performance, the researchers say, is the efficient insertion of CO2 into the rhenium-oxygen bond.

The researchers aim to continue systematically investigating promising strategies to help reduce real-world CO2 levels.

Explore further: CO2 shortage—why can't we just pull carbon dioxide out of the air?

More information: Hiromu Kumagai et al, Electrocatalytic reduction of low concentration CO2, Chemical Science (2018). DOI: 10.1039/C8SC04124E

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