Canadian chemists have created a catalyst for the conversion of air into ethylene

Scientists from the University of Toronto have created a catalyst that can convert molecules of carbon dioxide to ethylene, raw materials for the production of polyethylene and gas from welding machines. According to RIA News the "recipe" for its production was published in the journal Science.

"We have known for many years that this reaction is accelerating in the alkaline environment, but no one has tried to use it before and to check how effective it becomes in practice in this case. We realized that idea and showed how to cope all technical problems, " Cao-Thang Dinh of the University of Toronto (Canada) said.

Last years, scientists are actively trying to find a way to convert atmospheric CO2 into biofuels and other useful substances.

For instance, in July 2016, physicists from Chicago created a solar battery which directly uses light energy to break down CO2 and produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and in October, their colleagues at the National laboratory in Oak ridge created a catalyst which converts carbon dioxide into ethanol, "conventional" alcohol.

All these catalysts and systems of "transmutation" of air into alcohol can help not only solve the problem of providing mankind with "green" fuel, but also find cheaper sources of raw materials for the production of chemicals, polymers, plastics and other materials which are produced from oil and gas today.

Dinh and his colleagues have been working for several years to create catalysts that would directly convert CO2 into ethylene. Today it is a leader in the chemical industry — every year oil and gas companies produce about 150 million tons of ethylene, most of which is converted into polyethylene and other polymeric compounds.

Copper nanoparticles have similar properties, but they have two problems — they turn only a small part of CO2 molecules into ethylene and at the same time consume a lot of electricity.

In the early 1990s, according to Dinh, scientists noticed that the efficiency of such catalysts increases sharply if placed in a solution of alkali. However, it creates a new set of problems - copper nanoparticles began to rapidly decay and overgrown byproducts of the reaction, which drastically reduced the efficiency of their operation within 30-40 minutes after reactor start-up.

Canadian scientists got rid of this problem, "hiding" a thin plate of copper inside a kind of sandwich of several sheets of graphite, carbon nanotubes and Teflon nanocylinders. Such a construction did not prevent the molecules of CO2 from penetrating into the catalyst, but protecting it from destruction.

As shown by the first experiments, this design collapses 15 times slower than copper nanoparticles, and it has a higher efficiency and less "voracity". According to chemists, about 70% of electricity is spending on useful work, and more than half of the CO2 molecules are turning into ethylene, which is already quite good from a commercial point of view.

Now scientists are working on the creation of" industrial " versions of this catalyst, which would be adapted to work with large amounts of CO2. As Dinh hopes, the opening of his team will help to save the Earth from" oil and gas dependence " in the near future.