The threat of global warming persists, endangering both human society and ecological systems. Carbon dioxide stands as the primary contributor to the greenhouse gases responsible for driving climate change. To combat this and achieve carbon neutrality, researchers have developed an electroreduction system to combat carbon footprint. This device will effectively convert CO2 into ethylene for industrial uses.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) researchers have created a long-lasting, exceptionally intelligent, and energy-effective system for carbon dioxide (CO2) electro reduction. This system can efficiently transform CO2 into ethylene for industrial use, offering a potent solution for curbing CO2 emissions. The PolyU project stands out as a remarkable collaboration, bringing together researchers from the University of Oxford, the National Synchrotron Radiation Research Centre of Taiwan, and Jiangsu University.
Under the guidance of Prof. Daniel Lau, the research team has started the electrocatalytic CO2 reduction approach. Prof. Lau is a renowned expert in nanomaterials and the Head of the Department of Applied Physics. By harnessing sustainable electricity, they can effectively transform carbon dioxide into ethylene. This offers a significantly more eco-friendly and stable method for ethylene production. This technology is almost ready for mass production. It has the potential to revolutionize the industry by closing the carbon loop and achieving carbon neutrality.
“We will work on further improvements to enhance product selectivity and seek for collaboration opportunities with the industry. It is clear that this APMA cell design underpins a transition to green production of ethylene and other valuable chemicals and can contribute to reducing carbon emissions and achieving the goal of carbon neutrality,” Prof. Daniel Lau said.
Ethylene (C2H4) is a highly sought-after chemical worldwide, primarily employed in the production of polymers like polyethylene. These polymers form the basis of numerous plastic and chemical fiber products essential for our daily lives. However, since it mainly comes from petrochemicals, it has a large carbon footprint when it is produced.
About the Process
Professor Lau’s innovative approach eliminates the need for alkali-metal electrolytes by utilizing pure water as a metal-free anolyte. This further prevents carbonate formation and salt deposition. The APMA system consists of the following:
- An anion-exchange membrane (AEM)
- A proton-exchange membrane (PEM)
- Resulting membrane assembly (MA)
A cell stack without alkali metals, consisting of APMA and a copper electrocatalyst, was successfully developed to produce ethylene with a remarkable 50% specificity. Moreover, it demonstrated an impressive operational lifespan of over 1,000 hours at an industrial-level current of 10A, signifying a substantial advancement compared to existing systems and enabling seamless expansion to an industrial scale.
Researchers developed a highly efficient combat electroreduction system to reduce carbon footprint that includes one crucial element, that is the specialized electrocatalyst. Copper is renowned for its ability to catalyze various reactions in the chemical industry. However, the catalyst used by the research team has several remarkable characteristics.
The countless nano-scale copper spheres possess intricately textured surfaces, consisting of steps, stacking faults, and grain boundaries. These defects, in contrast to an ideal metal structure, create an advantageous environment for the reaction to thrive.
Additional tests revealed that the suppression of carbonates and salts formation was achieved effectively. Moreover, CO2 or electrolytes neither of them were lost during the process. This is important because in previous processes, some electrolytes were lost by the diffusion of alkali-metal ions from the anolyte. This happened because they utilized bipolar membranes instead of APMA. Moreover, the issue of hydrogen production overpowering ethylene has been significantly reduced. This was greatly affecting the previous systems operating in acidic cathode environments.
As researchers have developed an electroreduction system to combat carbon footprint, its large-scale production is expected to begin soon. According to the researchers, this will control industrial emission more effectively.