April 7 (UPI) -- Technologies designed to convert CO2 into biofuels and useful chemicals have mostly been confined to the laboratory, limited in their scale and efficiency -- until now.
Engineers in South Korea have developed a large-scale electrochemical CO2 conversion system, as well as a scalable method for producing the catalyst.
The new sea urchin-shaped nano copper catalyst electrode -- described Wednesday in the journal Nano Energy -- is able to convert CO2 into large quantities of ethylene, a hydrocarbon used to make plastics, synthetic rubber and common materials.
"The findings of this study are expected to make a substantial contribution to the commercialization of an electrochemical carbon dioxide conversion system," study lead author Hyung-Suk Oh, researcher at the Korean Institute of Science and Technology, said in a news release.
The copper catalyst features an array of irregular spines -- long and short, thick and thick -- recalling the appearance of a sea urchin. The catalyst's unique shape helps it convert CO2 with greater efficiency while using less electricity.
Equally as important, production of the stackable catalyst can be easily scaled.
Researchers were able to boost the efficiency of the catalyst by adding copper hydroxide and copper oxide, a pair of alkaline substances.
Real-time imaging instruments, including X-ray absorption spectroscopy, revealed the benefits of the catalyst's unique chemical properties during the reactive process.
"Our findings provide a new strategy for converting CO2 to C2H4, which is expected to accelerate the commercialization of high-value chemical production through electrochemical CO2 reduction," the researchers wrote in their paper.
The scientists said they plant to scale their technology in followup tests, with the hopes of preparing the catalyst for commercialization.