Synthetic fuels can turn practically any vehicle carbon-neutral, since the vehicle would emit the same carbon dioxide that was used to make the fuel in the first place.
Actually, this is exactly the draw of biofuels, except that, with synthetic fuels, you don’t have to wait for the plants to grow. I guess you could think of carbon capture devices and carbon dioxide conversion as a replacement for the plants that capture carbon dioxide and convert it to sugars. The problem, though, is that current methods are expensive and inefficient. Sure, carbon capture and conversion is green, but this hasn’t been much of an incentive for big carbon dioxide producers in industry and power production.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago [UIC] may have developed a solution using one of the many untapped properties of graphene, a nanofilm of carbon, but they didn’t jump right to graphene for the answer. Basically, converting carbon dioxide into synthetic fuel is a multi-step process using catalysts to perform each step. Considering this, UIC figured that each step should have its own catalyst, which boosted efficiency considerably. Still, one of the catalysts was silver, which didn’t address the expense part of the problem.
At first, UIC researchers used nitrogen-doped carbon nanotubes, but after they examined the reaction more closely, they discovered it wasn’t the nitrogen facilitating the reaction, but the carbon. Now, the simple solution was to simply roll out the carbon nanotubes and remove the nitrogen, that is, replace them with graphene. If UIC can successfully commercialize the process, it could give carbon dioxide producers the incentive they need to convert this harmful byproduct into something useful and profitable, synthetic fuel, which has the added benefit of being carbon-neutral.
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