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Energy: Making Fuel and Plastics from CO2 — The Circular Carbon Economy

By Dick Weisinger

Scientists believe that global warming has been triggered by massive amounts of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. To mitigate the problem, both researchers and industry are investigating how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, attempting to solve the ‘carbon capture’ problem.

The other half of the puzzle is what to do with carbon dioxide once it is pulled from the air. A number of researchers have investigated the possibility of storing CO2 underground. And other researchers are looking at how to recycle captured CO2 into products that could be reused, an idea that many call ‘the circular carbon economy.’

One interesting approach is to try to convert captured CO2 into gasoline or jet fuel. The method involves capturing CO2 from the air, adding hydrogen, and then interact with a catalyst in a process called hydrogenation. There has been a number of research teams that have investigated this approach.

For example, catalysts that are being tested for converting CO2 to fuels and polymers include zinc ions, copper and tin oxide, electro-catalysts, zeolite catalysts involving indium and vanadium, and ruthenium.

David Keith, a Harvard Professor of Applied Physics, said that “this isn’t going to save the world from the impacts of climate change, but it’s going to be a big step on the path to a low-carbon economy.”

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