Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers combined gold and copper to create hybrid nano-particles that could vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Copper is already one of the few metals that can convert CO2 into fuel while requiring little energy, but it has limitations that the scientists circumvented by boosting its conductivity with gold. This new development in nanotechnology could make power plants more efficient and reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions.
The MIT scientists combined tiny copper nano-particles with gold nano-particles since copper can quickly oxidize, and gold is far more resilient and resists corrosion. Copper is relatively unstable and therefore slow to convert CO2. That slow chemical reaction also creates such pollutants as carbon monoxide and formic acid. Just a few gold nano-particles can boost copper’s ability to conduct energy at a far faster rate than a grouping of pure copper particles. To achieve their goal, the researchers heated a solution of salts with copper and gold molecules and set it through several reactions resulting in a powder that could coat small electrodes. Those electrodes, in turn, could maintain a consistent and steady electrical current.
In the long term, the nanotechnology finding could be important for the energy efficiency of local and national electricity grids. Coal and natural gas power plants using such a nanotechnology design could prevent the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. Instead, these copper catalysts would allow the CO2 to be converted into methane that in turn could power the rest of the plant. One of the scientists on the project, Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, acknowledged that the use of gold is at first glance expensive, but the energy savings and the ability to reuse the electrodes, not to mention the energy saved, could balance the initial cost.
Photos courtesy MIT Media Office.