Scientists at the University of Illinois may have found a way to move away from the use of fossil fuels and towards synthetically producing fuel via an electrochemical cell that houses three electrodes. This cell is designed to behave in similar ways that a plant would by gaining energy from light.
Plants can easily produce carbon monoxide, but it is a challenge in the laboratory. The new cell, however, gains energy and undergoes chemical reactions. The electrodes serve as conductors for electricity. In one compartment of the cell free oxygen and hydrogen ions appear.
In the other compartment carbon monoxide and water form, signaling the end stage.
What’s great about this is that a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be used for synthetic gas. It is better to produce fuel this way then to contribute more greenhouse gases and obviously damage the environment.
Part of the breakthrough was dependent on the scientists’ understanding of catalysts (which speed up chemical reactions) and ionic liquids (ionic here refers to salt). The cell is constructed with a certain material (silicon) to harvest light and also needs liquids as mediums for the associated chemical reactions to travel through.
What the researchers did was use tungsten diselenide as a catalyst and ethyl-methyl-imidazolium tetrafluoroborate combined with water as the ionic liquid.
Imagine looking down at a cell where on one side (the cathode side), there is the new catalyst in the new ionic liquid, and on the other side (the anode side) there is the cobalt oxide in another liquid potassium phosphate. That’s basically all it is, but it sure took a lot of work to get there.
One of the authors on the Science paper Mohammad Asadi explains, “The new catalyst is more active; more able to break carbon dioxide’s chemical bonds.”