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Harvesting renewable energy from CO2

The modern world is powered by oil and coal yet promising new research could harness energy from the very air we breathe out - carbon dioxide (CO2).

The quest to convert CO2 into chemicals and a usable fuel is complex, involving researchers around the world including the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).

In a breakthrough, recently published in Nature Communications, the University’s scientists have found a cheaper and more efficient way to help make this happen.

It involves electrochemical conversion, pinpointing the new materials needed to kick-start the desired reaction.

Lead researcher Dr Lei Ge (Centre for Future Materials) said his team had focused on one of the electrocatalysts (aka the ‘spark’).

“Fossil-fuel driven processes currently dominate the chemical and fuel manufacturing industry, relying on large non-renewable sources such as coal or oil,” Dr Ge said.

“A possible sustainable future could integrate renewable energy from more plentiful small gas molecules, for example carbon dioxide.

“An important part of that process is an electrocatalyst called the anodic oxygen evolution reaction, but a drawback has been the expense and scarcity of the precious metals traditionally used to make it work.”

Dr Ge and his team - part of Professor Hao Wang's material group - have found an alternative to the costly technology and their research shows it works even better.

“Instead of precious metals, we’re investigating a ceramic-based oxide which is more stable and more efficient in sparking the necessary chemical reaction,” Dr Ge said.

“This project is significant because it aims to overcome critical issues in electrochemical technologies that could potentially produce, using renewable energy sources, a wide range of chemicals (fuels, fertilisers, chemical feedstocks) needed by industry and society.”

The University of Southern Queensland research is part of an Australian Research Council Linkage project in collaboration with the University of Queensland.

The Nature Communications article is available. The lead author is USQ PhD student Yangli Pan.

Man in lab coat standing in lab
Dr Lei Ge