Scientists in Australia have developed a way to convert carbon dioxide into coal. “While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” said RMIT University researcher Torben Daeneke in a press release.
Researchers have been able to turn carbon dioxide into a solid under extremely high temperatures, but that process is too expensive.
Publishing their work in the journal Nature Communications, Daeneke and his colleagues used liquid metals as catalysts to trigger the greenhouse gas’s transformation into a solid at room temperature.
The liquid metals conduct electricity, activating chemical processes around them. When carbon dioxide is dissolved into a beaker with an electrolyte liquid and the metals and combined with an electric charge, the carbon dioxide turns into chunks of carbon that fall from the liquid metal, allowing more to form from the gas in the beaker.
“By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable,” said Daeneke.
The coal that forms could be used for other processes, too.
“A side benefit of the process is that the carbon can hold electrical charge, becoming a supercapacitor, so it could potentially be used as a component in future vehicles,” said Dorna Esrafilzadeh, another RMIT University researcher. “The process also produces synthetic fuel as a by-product, which could also have industrial applications.”