A new study has introduced an electrochemical reaction, enhanced by polymers, to improve CO2-to-ethylene conversion efficiency.

Led by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Chemistry Progressor Andrew Gewirth and Graduate Student Xinyi Chen, the study reports that by allowing CO2 to flow through a reaction chamber fitter with copper electrodes and an electrolyte solution is the most common method researchers use to convert CO2 to useful carbon-containing chemicals.

“Copper metal is highly selective toward the type of carbon that forms ethylene. Different electrode materials will produce different chemicals like carbon monoxide instead of ethylene, or a mix of other carbon chemicals. What we have done in this study is to design a new kind of copper electrode that produces almost entirely ethylene,” Gewirth said.

Whilst previous studies have used other metals and molecular coatings on the electrode to help direct the CO2-reduction reactions, the coatings are not stable and often break down during the reaction process and fall away from the electrodes.

“What we did differently in this study was to combine the copper ions and polymers into a solution, then apply that solution to an electrode, entraining the polymer into the copper,” commented Chen.

During the research process, the team found that the new polymer-entrained electrodes were less likely to break down and produced more stable chemical intermediates, resulting in more efficient ethylene production. 

“We were able to convert CO2 to ethylene at a rate of up to 87%, depending on the electrolyte used,” Chen continued. “That is up from previous reports of conversion rates of about 80% using other types of electrodes.”

“With the development of economic sources of electricity, combined with the increased interest in CO2-reduction technology, we see great potential for commercialisation of this process,” Gewirth concluded

The International Institute for Carbon Neutral Energy Research, Shell’s New Energy Research and Technology and the National Science Foundation supported this research.

The full story orginally appeared on the University of Illinois website and can be accessed here.