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Turning carbon dioxide into liquid fuel

Catalysts speed up chemical reactions and form the backbone of many industrial processes. For example, they are essential in transforming heavy oil into gasoline or jet fuel. Today, catalysts are involved in over 80 percent of all manufactured products.

A research team, led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in collaboration with Northern Illinois University, has discovered a new electrocatalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into ethanol with very high energy efficiency, high selectivity for the desired final product and low cost. Ethanol is a particularly desirable commodity because it is an ingredient in nearly all U.S. gasoline and is widely used as an intermediate product in the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.

“The process resulting from our catalyst would contribute to the circular carbon economy, which entails the reuse of carbon dioxide,” said Di-Jia Liu, senior chemist in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering division and a UChicago CASE scientist in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago. This process would do so by electrochemically converting the CO2 emitted from industrial processes, such as fossil fuel power plants or alcohol fermentation plants, into valuable commodities at reasonable cost.

The team’s catalyst consists of atomically dispersed copper on a carbon-powder support. By an electrochemical reaction, this catalyst breaks down CO2 and water molecules and selectively reassembles the broken molecules into ethanol under an external electric field. The electrocatalytic selectivity, or “Faradaic efficiency,” of the process is over 90 percent, much higher than any other reported process. What is more, the catalyst operates stably over extended operation at low voltage.

“With this research, we’ve discovered a new catalytic mechanism for converting carbon dioxide and water into ethanol,” said Tao Xu, a professor in physical chemistry and nanotechnology from Northern Illinois University. “The mechanism should also provide a foundation for development of highly efficient electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide conversion to a vast array of value-added chemicals.”

Because CO2 is a stable molecule, transforming it into a different molecule is normally energy intensive and costly. However, according to Liu, “We could couple the electrochemical process of CO2-to-ethanol conversion using our catalyst to the electric grid and take advantage of the low-cost electricity available from renewable sources like solar and wind during off-peak hours.” Because the process runs at low temperature and pressure, it can start and stop rapidly in response to the intermittent supply of the renewable electricity.

The team’s research benefited from two DOE Office of Science User Facilities at Argonne — the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) — as well as Argonne’s Laboratory Computing Resource Center (LCRC). “Thanks to the high photon flux of the X-ray beams at the APS, we have captured the structural changes of the catalyst during the electrochemical reaction,” said Tao Li, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Illinois University and an assistant scientist in Argonne’s X-ray Science division. These data along with high-resolution electron microscopy at CNM and computational modeling using the LCRC revealed a reversible transformation from atomically dispersed copper to clusters of three copper atoms each on application of a low voltage. The CO2-to-ethanol catalysis occurs on these tiny copper clusters. This finding is shedding light on ways to further improve the catalyst through rational design.

“We have prepared several new catalysts using this approach and found that they are all highly efficient in converting CO2 to other hydrocarbons,” said Liu. “We plan to continue this research in collaboration with industry to advance this promising technology.”

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Materials provided by DOE/Argonne National Laboratory. Original written by Joseph E. Harmon. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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DCED

Governor Wolf Announces Funding to Clean Up and Renew Three Former Industrial Sites – PA Department of Community & Economic Development

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Tom Wolf announced three new projects funded by the Industrial Sites Reuse Program (ISRP) that will clean up former industrial sites in Berks, Bucks, and Montgomery counties to prepare them for use as residential properties, open space for park systems, and manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, call centers, and for small business space in general.

“Investing in bringing new life to old and unutilized properties creates clean and safe spaces for surrounding communities,” said Gov. Wolf. “These projects will result in new opportunities like housing options, space for future outdoor recreational activities, and new jobs for these three counties.”

The ISRP provides loans and grants for environmental assessments and remediation carried out by eligible applicants who did not cause or contribute to the contamination. The program is designed to foster the cleanup of environmental contamination at industrial sites, thereby bringing blighted land into productive reuse.

The three approved projects are:

Berks County: The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Reading was granted $878,612 for environmental remediation of the former Buttonwood Gateway site in Reading. The authority is partnering with the Delaware Valley Development Company (DVDC) to revitalize a long-blighted property by constructing 28 interlocking townhomes with integral parking garages, 12 walk-up apartments, and six three-bedroom townhomes, all with individual entrances and on-site parking. ISRP funds will be used to excavate the soil to an off-site disposal facility; place a cap to eliminate direct contact with soil; install monitory wells and three separate phase liquid recovery wells; conduct quarterly groundwater sampling, soil sampling, and separate phase liquid sampling; liquid waste characterization and disposal; drum disposal; soil vapor reporting; inspections; well abandonment; and reporting.

Bucks County: The Redevelopment Authority of the County of Bucks (RDA) was granted $87,600 for an assessment at the former Bensalem Drum Dump Site. The site includes six blighted acres. A Phase I Assessment was completed in 2017 and revealed concentrations of several heavy metals including lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), perchloroethylene (PCE), and trichloroethylene (TCE). A Phase II Assessment was recently completed through a Greenways, Trails, and Recreation Program (GTRP) grant. The RDA will continue assessing the site which is intended to be preserved as open space and incorporated into Bensalem Township’s municipal park system. ISRP funds will be used for soil investigation, groundwater sampling and analysis activities, groundwater monitoring wells, groundwater monitoring well survey activities, sub-slab soil gas sampling and analysis activities, aquifer testing, fate and transport modeling, Act 2 remedial investigation reports, and Act 2 procedural requirements.

Montgomery County: The Redevelopment Authority of the County of Montgomery was granted $76,582 for an assessment of the former Pottstown Plating Works property. The site is 3.89 acres and contains a two-story, 46,500-square-foot vacant building. The assessment will include soil samples, ground water samples, vapor intrusion evaluation, and reporting. The Redevelopment Authority of the County of Montgomery is working with 215 South Washington Street, LLC, to assess and remediate the site for use for light manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, call center, and general small business. The project is anticipated to create between 20 and 75 new jobs.

For more information about the Industrial Site Reuse program or the Department of Community and Economic Development, visit the DCED website, and be sure to stay up-to-date with all of our agency news on Facebook, Twitter