While governments around the world continue the long, hard work of regulating away the future use of fossil fuels, scientists have discovered how to remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Researchers at the Oak Ridge Laboratory unexpectedly discovered a chemical reaction that converts carbon dioxide into ethanol. This discovery was made as the researchers attempted to uncover a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into fuel. As it turned out, the first step in this series of reactions was quite enough to make it happen. The resultant ethanol is a cleaner fuel that could be used power generators or vehicles.

power plant, smoke stack, emissions

The technology to convert CO2 into ethanol consists of a novel combination of carbon and copper placed on a silicon surface. “By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” said researcher Adam Rondinone. The resulting reaction is very concise and produces ethanol that is relatively free of contaminants.

Related: Study shows corn fields creeping into untouched grasslands to meet ethanol fuel demand

The newly discovered process is preferable to prior methods of fuel conversion particularly because it can be commenced and concluded with ease and at little energy cost. “A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” said Rondinone. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.” The team at Oak Ridge is planning to revise the reaction and improve its functionality. The ultimate goal for this technology would be its application as a large-scale carbon capture technique, the holy grail in the fight against climate change.

Via Popular Mechanics

Images via Wladimir Labeikovsky and Antti T. Nissinen