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UT-Arlington researchers create cleaner, one-step process to create hydrocarbon fuels

By David Schwartz
Published: March 2nd, 2016

Researchers at the University of Texas (UT)-Arlington have developed a method to convert carbon dioxide and water directly into useable liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

Both simple and inexpensive, the researchers’ discovery could help curb climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuel, at the same time restoring oxygen back into the atmosphere as a byproduct of the reaction.

“Our process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies, as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system,” says Frederick Macdonnell, interim chair of chemistry and biochemistry at UT-Arlington and co-researcher on the project.

The technology uses concentrated light, heat and high pressures to perform the one-step conversion. According to UTA engineering professor and co-researcher Brian Dennis, “Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbon in a single-step process.”

MacDonnell says the team’s next step is to replace the current system’s catalyst titanium oxide, a white powder that cannot absorb the entire visible light spectrum. “Then we could more effectively use the entire spectrum of incident light to work towards the overall goal of a sustainable solar liquid fuel,” he comments.

The researchers envision using parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight on the catalyst bed, providing both heat and photo-excitation for the reaction. Excess heat could even be used to drive related operations for a solar fuels facility, including product separations and water purification.  

Duane Dimos, UTA’s vice president for research, commended the researchers. “Discovering a one-step process to generate renewable hydrocarbon fuels from carbon dioxide and water is a huge achievement,” Dimos said. “This work strengthens UTA’s reputation as a leading research institution in the area of Global Environmental Impact.”

Source: University of Texas at Arlington

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