Found a new way to convert greenhouse gas into useful materials

Typically, this CO2 separation process requires a huge amount of energy. However, in the first computational

researching this kind of Shaam Sharada, associate professor WISE Gabilan and her team decided to use the Sun as an assistant in this process.

In particular, they demonstrated thatultraviolet light can be very effective in exciting the organic oligophenylene molecule. When exposed to UV radiation, oligophenylene becomes a negatively charged anion, easily transferring electrons to a nearby molecule such as CO2. Thus, carbon dioxide becomes able to recover and turn into an integral part of plastics, medicines or even furniture.

“CO2 is notoriously difficult to reduce, so itlives in the atmosphere for decades. But this negatively charged anion is capable of reducing even such a stable product as CO2, so it is promising and therefore we are studying it.

Shaam Sharada, Associate Professor WISE Gabilan

The rapidly increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere is one of the most pressing problems that humanity must solve in order to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Since the beginning of the industrial era, humans have increasedCO2 emissions in the atmosphere by 45% due to the combustion of fossil fuels and other emissions. As a result, average global temperatures are now two degrees Celsius higher than in the pre-industrial era. Thanks to greenhouse gases like CO2, solar heat stays in the atmosphere, heating our planet.

Many research groups are exploring methods for converting CO2 captured by emissions into fuels or carbon feedstocks for consumer products, from pharmaceuticals to polymers.

This process traditionally uses heator electricity together with a catalyst to accelerate the conversion of CO2 into products. However, many of these methods are often energy intensive, which is not ideal for a process to reduce environmental impact. Using sunlight to excite a catalyst molecule is in turn energy efficient.

“Most other ways to do this includethe use of metal based chemicals, and these metals are rare earth metals, ”said Sharada. "They can be expensive, difficult to find, and potentially toxic."

This work was the first computationala study of this kind, since scientists have not previously studied the basic mechanism for the movement of an electron from an organic molecule such as oligophenylene to CO2. The team found that they can systematically modify the oligophenylene catalyst by adding groups of atoms that impart certain properties when bound to molecules that tend to push electrons towards the center of the catalyst to speed up the reaction.

The team is currently studying design strategiescatalysts that not only result in a high reaction rate, but also allow the excitation of a molecule with visible light, using both quantum chemistry and genetic algorithms.

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