Scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory may have just made a phenomenal discovery all from pure luck. Well, sort of.
Adam Rondinone, the lead author of the study, thought that the process of getting CO2 and converting it to fuel would be a complicated multi-step process. It turns out it was a relatively simple process.
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Robinson said in a press release, “We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked.” He added, “We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own.”
But how did they stumble across this possible historic discovery for an alternative fuel source? All by developing a “process that adds ‘nano-spikes’ – essentially tiny bursts- of carbon and copper to CO2 to transform it into ethanol, the type of alcohol found in hand sanitizer and alcoholic drinks.”
The study was originally just an experiment and was meant to be one part of a longer research project investigating how to turn CO2 into ethanol. But as it turned out, it was a lot simpler than they originally thought: They needed only a single catalyst (copper) to transform the CO2.
The discovery is considered a major breakthrough in what could be a healthy alternative to the dying fossil fuel method. But there is one drawback to the process. This fuel could ultimately dissolve back into the atmosphere once again as carbon dioxide, one of the major air pollutants that contributes to climate change.
Burning a gallon of diesel fuel produces about the equivalent of 22 pounds of CO2. If the technology can become a cost-efficient alternative and becomes widely available, we could be looking at a product the could sustain our gas needs for the foreseeable future.
There is no word currently if this will ever leave the lab and become a serious alternative fuel source, but at least these scientists are on the right track.