New method to turn CO2 into coal

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Scientists have developed a new relatively low-cost method for turning atmospheric carbon dioxide into solid carbon that then be used as a synthetic fuel.

“By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scaleable,” [Dr. Torben Daeneke, a research scientist at RMIT University.] said. The liquid metal catalyst was developed by the researchers with specific surface properties, making it extremely efficient at conducting electricity, while chemically activating the surface.

According to the press release: “The carbon dioxide is dissolved in a beaker with an electrolyte liquid and a small amount of the liquid metal, which is then charged with an electric current. The CO2 slowly converts into solid flakes of carbon, which are naturally detached from the liquid metal surface, allowing the continuous production of carbonaceous solid.”

And, yes, the process has the potential to yield a future energy source. The carbon produced may be able to be used as an electrode.

This is excellent news, for a lot of reasons. At the same time, I always find this effort to use technology to grab and convert atmospheric carbon dioxide somewhat ironic. We already have a very efficient biological tool for doing this, called plant life, which is presently thriving worldwide because of the increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The more you plant, the more oxygen you create. And what’s more, it gives you a lot more food to eat. Why do anything else?

Hat tip reader John Vernoski.



  • Jason Lewis

    “Low cost” is relative. Carbon sequestration articles are notorious for avoiding discussion of the thermodynamic cost of sequestration. It takes just as much energy to remove the oxygen from the carbon as was released from attaching the oxygen to the carbon. There’s no way around this. Add inefficiencies and the energy cost gets worse. The process in the article apparently used electrical power to separate the oxygen, which may be more efficient than other high temperature processes, but it’s still energy. Even if you just capture CO2, it still takes energy to remove it from the air and to compress it. In the end, if you require hydrocarbon power plants to sequester CO2, it just means that they’ll have to burn more hydrocarbons to produce the same amount of power. Plants process carbon dioxide, but they are really slow and still require power via sunlight.

  • BSJ

    Yeah, What Jason said… And what exactly is this “liquid metal”?

    There are stories like this all the time on

  • wayne

    Good stuff.

  • Max

    What is this “liquid metal”?

    “Herein, we created a liquid metal electrocatalyst that contains metallic elemental cerium nanoparticles, which facilitates the electrochemical reduction of CO2 to layered solid carbonaceous species, at a low onset potential of −310 mV vs CO2/C. We exploited the formation of a cerium oxide catalyst at the liquid metal/electrolyte interface, which together with cerium nanoparticles, promoted the room temperature reduction of CO2. Due to the inhibition of van der Waals adhesion at the liquid interface, the electrode was remarkably resistant to deactivation via coking caused by solid carbonaceous species. The as-produced solid carbonaceous materials could be utilised for the fabrication of high-performance capacitor electrodes. Overall, this liquid metal enabled electrocatalytic process at room temperature may result in a viable negative emission technology.”

    Oh, that sounds simple…


    Reminds me of the reverse process that occurs inside our bodies as iron delivers oxygen to the mitochondria to produce electricity and heat from oxidizing carbohydrates/hydrocarbons. (sugar and fat) Nano particles of iron in a red blood cells then removes the carbon dioxide in respiration.

    There are many methods for removing carbon. Some are better than others.
    In a cost analysis of compressing carbon dioxide emissions into a liquid, it would consume 1/5 the output of the power plant.
    For every 4 coal powered power stations, a fifth would need to be built just to manage exhaust output of all 5, burning 1/5 more coal. It was assumed that carbon dioxide would be pumped into underground storage in old oil wells. (This method of storage would also wash the rocks, like a solvent, making oil wells more productive at taxpayer expense, before fracking made the idea obsolete)

    Releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would result in more productive plant life around the planet, surviving with less water. This would have a consequence of more insects, then birds, and animals in general.
    If the climate becomes warmer, it would serve to enhance life and carbon dioxide consumption. At 4/100 of 1%, carbon dioxide is too small of a factor to make a measurable difference in the heat cycle. Water vapor, which absorbs heat in the same wavelength as carbon dioxide, has a much larger affect covering a considerable amount of the planet continuously.
    Releasing carbon dioxide has “only” beneficial repercussions. There is no downside. If you hate life in all its forms and prefer a sterile environment, then you may disagree.

    If they were serious about removing CO2 from our air nearly permanently, then plankton in the ocean is the process that is the most efficient in nature. For every ton of plankton, 400 pounds is calcium carbonate. This will end up on the ocean floor as lime stone which on average is 2000 feet thick.
    Permanently sequestered.
    Lime stone, ancient carbon dioxide “fossilized life” makes up 10% of the crust of the earth. Continental drift will one day subdue it, heat and pressure will recycle the carbon into a useful form, creating more fossil fuel, and volcanoes to restore it into earth’s lifecycle… natures fertilizer.

  • pzatchok

    Could it eventually be used as a faster way to scrub CO2 from a spaceship?

    Could it be used without separating and concentrating the CO2 from the air?

    It would not be recyclable in a coal like form.

  • Max

    “Can it be used to scrub CO2 from a spaceship?”
    It’s safety is unclear.

    Cerium is the most abundant of rare-earth metals found in the Earth’s crust. Several Ce-carbonate, -phosphate, -silicate, and -(hydr)oxide minerals have been historically mined and processed for pharmaceutical uses and industrial applications. Of all Ce minerals, cerium dioxide has received much attention in the global nanotechnology market due to their useful applications for catalysts, fuel cells, and fuel additives. A recent mass flow modeling study predicted that a major source of CeO2 nanoparticles from industrial processing plants (e.g., electronics and optics manufactures) is likely to reach the terrestrial environment such as landfills and soils.

    The environmental fate of CeO2 nanoparticles is highly dependent on its physcochemical properties in low temperature geochemical environment. Though there are needs in improving the analytical method in detecting/quantifying CeO2 nanoparticles in different environmental media, it is clear that aquatic and terrestrial organisms have been exposed to CeO2 NPs, potentially yielding in negative impact on human and ecosystem health. Interestingly, there has been contradicting reports about the toxicological effects of CeO2 nanoparticles, acting as either an antioxidant or reactive oxygen species production inducing agent). This poses a challenge in future regulations for the CeO2 nanoparticle application and the risk assessment in the environment.

    Cerium (Ce) is a member of the lanthanide series of metals on the periodic table.
    Cerium is found in a variety of mineral classes, primarily including carbonates, phosphates, silicates, oxides and hydroxides. Main sources of industrial cerium include the carbonate mineral bastnäsite and the phosphate mineral monazite.
    Because cerium oxide is remarkably insoluble in water and in dilute acid. It is commonly used as an abrasive; the powder is used in the grinding/polishing of other materials. For many years, it was used for polishing specialized glass (telescope mirrors, for example). It is also used in heat-resistant alloy coatings and in ceramic coatings.

    “It would not be recyclable in a coal like form…”

    Think of it as charcoal, or graphite if they’re using it for batteries/ capacitors/ water filters, Etc.
    There is a better way in space to collect carbon dioxide in a usable form that gives back.
    Impressive next generation technology applied farming techniques that can be used almost anywhere. In cities, caves, underwater, space station/low gravity installation.

    Low power LED lights in the most effective EM bands, producing food with no herbicides or pesticides, “no soil” fabric medium.130 times more productive harvest output with low water consumption. That’s 22 harvest per year versus three for traditional farming.
    The plants will scrub CO2 from the air and turn it into fresh oxygen while creating highly nutritional carbohydrates and hydrocarbons for consumption. Greatly reducing re-supplies from earth. The plants will also consume waste products from the astronauts in a very mutually beneficial way. A symbiotic relationship that is self-sustaining. The environment for proper plant growth is nearly identical to that of humans… And is very pleasant for a relaxed environment.

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