The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has received a $1m grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a way to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into ethylene, one of the world’s most widely used chemicals.

Approximately 140 million metric tonnes of ethylene are produced annually worldwide. The technology being developed by the researchers produces the comical by breaking down CO2 with low pulses of electricity.

By comparison, steam cracking, the current method for producing ethylene, emits 200% more CO2 – meaning the research hold a potential environmental upside.

“Ethylene is an important chemical. But when you produce it at the industrial level, you also produce a lot of CO2,” said Dr. Xiao-Dong Zhou is executive director of UL Lafayette’s Institute for Materials Research and Innovation. 

“If we can produce ethylene by using electricity coming from renewable resources, then we could, theoretically, reduce CO2 production by 200% because we are not producing it. We are consuming it.” 

“We could produce ethylene while keeping the environment safe. It’s cost-effective and environmentally friendly.”

The $1 million federal grant to UL Lafayette will be supplemented by $250,000 in funding from both UL Lafayette and the University of Cincinnati. DOE also awarded 10 other research teams carbon utilization programme funding.