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Stanford engineers create a catalyst that can turn carbon dioxide into gasoline 1,000 times more efficiently

Schematic showing CO2 (black and red) and hydrogen molecules (blue) react with the help of a ruthenium-based catalyst
Image credit: Chih-Jung Chen
Feb 9 2022
Faculty, Research, Stanford, Students, VPGE

Engineers working to reverse the proliferation of greenhouse gases know that in addition to reducing carbon dioxide emissions we will also need to remove carbon dioxide from power plant fumes or from the skies. But, what do we do with all that captured carbon? Matteo Cargnello, a chemical engineer at Stanford University, is working to turn it into other useful chemicals, such as propane, butane or other hydrocarbon fuels that are made up of long chains of carbon and hydrogen.

“We can create gasoline, basically,” said Cargnello, who is an assistant professor of chemical engineering. “To capture as much carbon as possible, you want the longest chain hydrocarbons. Chains with eight to 12 carbon atoms would be the ideal.”

A new catalyst, invented by Cargnello and colleagues, moves toward this goal by increasing the production of long-chain hydrocarbons in chemical reactions. It produced 1,000 times more butane – the longest hydrocarbon it could produce under its maximum pressure – than the standard catalyst given the same amounts of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, catalyst, pressure, heat and time.

Study co-authors include Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and professor of chemical engineering.

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