A team of University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) chemists and engineers has proven that concentrated light, heat, and high pressures can drive the one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water directly into usable liquid hydrocarbon fuels and oxygen. This simple and inexpensive new sustainable fuels technology could potentially help limit global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuel. The process also reverts oxygen back into the system as a byproduct of the reaction, with a clear positive environmental impact, researchers said. “Our process also has an important advantage over battery- or gaseous-hydrogen-powered vehicle technologies as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks, and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system," said Frederick MacDonnell, Ph.D., UTA Interim Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry and co-principal investigator of the project. In an article published online in PNAS, and titled “Solar Photothermochemical Alkane Reverse Combustion,” the researchers demonstrate that the one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water into liquid hydrocarbons and oxygen can be achieved in a photothermochemical flow reactor operating at 180 degrees Centigrade to 200 degrees Centigrade and pressures up to 6 atmospheres. "We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single-stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water," said Brian Dennis, Ph.D., UTA Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and co-principal investigator of the project. "Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process."
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