Empa uses defects for climate protection


Dübendorf ZH – A researcher at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) is looking for new catalysts for converting CO2 into environmentally friendly fuels. Alessandro Senocrate takes defects in crystalline material as his starting point.

Alessandro Senocrate from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology(Empa) wants to find out to what extent environmentally friendly fuel or so-called synfuels can be generated from excess CO2. According to a press release, the researcher from the Materials for Energy Conversion laboratory is not starting with the material, but with material defects. Defects – such as a missing atom in a crystal lattice – change the properties of the starting material and could act as an active center where the chemical transformation takes place, it is said.

With a renewable energy source, water and a suitable catalyst, the excess CO2 produced by burning oil, natural gas and coal could become a valuable resource. According to the press release, existing copper catalysts release up to 20 different molecules, including carbon monoxide, methane, propanol and acetic acid. Separating these compounds from each other is “extremely complex” due to their different aggregate states, Senocrate is quoted as saying.

Ways are needed to produce specific molecules – so-called platform chemicals – instead of a mixture during the conversion of CO2. Industry is particularly interested in some of these target molecules, as they could be used as starting materials in the production of plastics or fuels, for example.

In his search for alternative sources, he first wants to investigate which defects lead to which reaction products. The biggest challenge is to introduce enough defects into the target material to achieve a measurable catalytic effect. ce/heg