Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States have accidentally discovered a way to reverse the combustion process — turning carbon dioxide back into fuel.
By using complex nanotechnology the scientists managed to turn dissolved gas into ethanol.
The good news is that because the materials used in the process are relatively cheap, the reaction could well be used in industrial processes.
Dr Adam Rondinone, lead author of a paper about the experiment said:
We’re taking carbon dioxide, a waste product of combustion, and we’re pushing that combustion reaction backwards with very high selectivity to a useful fuel.
“You can use it [ethanol] in the current vehicle fleet, right now, with no modifications.
“Carbon dioxide is a problem right now. If we can use it, then we’re preventing it from going into the atmosphere.”
Last month the world reached the highest levels of atmospheric Co2 in four million years and scientist state that once the chemical is in the air, there is simply no way of getting it back to safe levels.
Speaking of the accident Dr Rondinone said, “we were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realised that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own.”
Rondinone and his colleagues had put together a catalyst using carbon, copper, and nitrogen, by embedding copper nanoparticles into nitrogen-laced carbon spikes measuring just 50-80 nonometres tall.
Once that an electric current of 1.2 volts was then applied, the catalyst converted the solution into ethanol, with a yield of 63 per cent.
Although the tests might be the first to successfully convert a pollutant back into a fuel, it is by no means the first attempt.
Scientists in Iceland are currently trying to turn pollutants into solid rock before burying it underground.
Only a day ago air pollution was announced as being more deadly in Africa than both malnutrition and dirty water — costing the continent 712,000 lives and £364 billion every year.