Karl Johnson and his team discovered a new material that remove carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into useful chemicals

Karl Johnson and his team worked with a class of nanomaterials called metal-organic frameworks or “MOFs,” which can be used to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and combine it with hydrogen atoms to convert it into valuable chemicals and fuels.

Burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas releases carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 while the production of methanol and other valuable fuels and chemicals requires a supply of carbon. There is currently no economically or energy efficient way to collect CO2 from the atmosphere and use it to produce carbon-based chemicals.

The key to reducing the hydrogenation barrier was to identify a MOF capable of pre-activating carbon dioxide. Pre-activation is basically preparing the molecules for the chemical reaction by putting it into the right geometry, the right position, or the right electronic state. The MOF they modeled in their work achieves pre-activation of CO2 by putting it into a slightly bent geometry that is able to accept the incoming hydrogen atoms with a lower barrier. 

Their findings were published in the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) journal Catalysis Science & Technology (DOI: 10.1039/c8cy01018h). The journal featured their work on its cover, illustrating the process of carbon dioxide and hydrogen molecules entering the MOF and exiting as CH2O2 or formic acid—a chemical precursor to methanol. For this process to occur, the molecules must overcome a demanding energy threshold called the hydrogenation barrier.


Written by Matt Cichowicz.

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