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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-05-30 16:05:27
  • Article ID: 695324

Changing the Surroundings Improves Catalysis

Water changes how cobalt-based molecule turns carbon dioxide into chemical feedstock.

  • Credit: Nathan Johnson, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

    Catalysis researchers determined that the cobalt-based catalyst (center) takes a different path to adding hydrogen (H) to carbon dioxide (CO2) depending on whether it is in a traditional solvent or water.

The Science

Working under good conditions makes it easy to get a job done. But what if you could turn good to great? That’s what scientists did for a popular catalyst that drives the conversion of carbon dioxide into a chemical feedstock known as formate. A cobalt-based catalyst drives the reaction in a solvent with a super strong base that is expensive. With some back-of-the-envelope calculations, scientists predicted that the cobalt catalyst could take a different reaction path to work in water with inexpensive sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. The result? The catalyst is the best performing nonprecious metal catalyst for converting carbon dioxide in water.

The Impact

The team’s work shows that the reaction environment, including the catalyst, solvent, and base, strongly influences the reaction. In this case, the surroundings determine how the reaction will proceed. Understanding the influence of the environment is crucial to designing the best catalysts. And the best catalysts are needed to transform carbon dioxide into a chemical that can serve as a building block for manufacturing hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals.

Summary

What if carbon dioxide could be used as a feedstock for valuable chemicals? The molecule would be turned into a hydrocarbon building block. How? By first adding hydrogen to create formate (HCOO). A big challenge is finding a catalyst system that can drive the reaction without relying on expensive chemicals. A research team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a cobalt-based catalyst system that works in water. The catalyst is the best when it comes to driving the reaction in water without relying on precious metals or expensive bases.

The team predicted how the catalyst would react with carbon dioxide based on the expected impact of the solvent on hydride (H) transfer, with the goal of working in water. The mechanism was different from those occurring in the traditional solvent, tetrahydrofuran. The resulting mechanism relies on inexpensive sodium bicarbonate instead of a strong and expensive base. Guided by the predictions, the team tested the catalyst in water with carbon dioxide. They characterized the catalyst’s performance by high-pressure nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy using a customized cell developed and built at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The team’s analysis demonstrated that the catalyst had worked just as predicted.

Funding

Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences

Publications

S.A. Burgess, A.M. Appel, J.C. Linehan, and E.S. Wiedner, “Changing the mechanism for CO2 hydrogenation using solvent-dependent thermodynamics.” Angewandte Chemie International Edition 56,15002 (2017). [DOI: 10.1002/anie.201709319]

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Sodium- and Potassium-based Batteries Hold Promise for Cheap Energy Storage

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found new evidence suggesting that batteries based on sodium and potassium hold promise as a potential alternative to lithium-based batteries.

ORNL researchers use AI to improve mammogram interpretation

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The science behind pickled battery electrolytes

Argonne material scientists have discovered a reaction that helps explain the behavior of a key electrolyte additive used to boost battery performance.

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Professor Emily Liu Receives $1.8 Million DoE Award for Solar Power Systems Research

Li (Emily) Liu, associate professor of nuclear engineering and engineering physics in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to receive a $1.8 million award to study high-temperature molten-salt properties and corrosion mechanisms.

Vasilis Fthenakis Receives IEEE's William R. Cherry Award

UPTON, NY; Vasilis Fthenakis, a Senior Scientist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Founder and Director of the Center for Life Cycle Analysis at Columbia University, will receive the 2018 William R. Cherry Award from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

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Work Begins on New SLAC Facility for Revolutionary Accelerator Science

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Takeuchi Receives European Inventor Award 2018 in the Non-EPO Countries Category

Prolific patent-holder won for inventing battery that increases the lifespan of implantable defibrillators fivefold, greatly reducing need for reoccurring surgery

Steve Kevan Named Next Director of Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source

After an international search, Stephen D. "Steve" Kevan has been named the new director of the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

International corrosion society elects first Sandia fellow

Sandia National Laboratories materials scientist David Enos has been elected a fellow of NACE International, the chief professional society for corrosion engineering. He is the first Sandia employee to receive the honor.

Power to the People

The University of Utah College of Engineering has received a $2 million grant to create a laboratory and develop new technology for communities with backup power sources, known as microgrids, so they can quickly and more securely operate in the event of a massive power outage due to a natural disaster or cyberattack.


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New Tech Uses Isomeric Beams to Study How and Where the Galaxy Makes One of Its Most Common Elements

A new measurement using a beam of aluminum-26 prepared in a metastable state allows researchers to better understand the creation of the elements in our galaxy.

Simulations of Magnetically Confined Plasmas Reveal a Self-Regulating Stabilizing Mechanism

A mysterious mechanism that prevents instabilities may be similar to the process that maintains the Earth's magnetic field.

Seeing All the Colors of the Plasma Wind

2-D velocity imaging helps fusion researchers understand the role of ion winds (aka flows) in the boundary of tokamak plasmas.

Renewable Solvents Derived From Lignin Lowers Waste in Biofuel Production

New class of solvents breaks down plant biomass into sugars for biofuels and bioproducts in a closed-loop biorefinery concept.

Scientists Studying Nuclear Spin Make a Surprising Discovery

The size of a nucleus appears to influence the direction of certain particles emitted from collisions with spinning protons.

Simulating Turbulent Bubbly Flows in Nuclear Reactors

With a better understanding of bubbly flows, researchers can improve the safety and operation of our nuclear reactors.

Solving a Magnesium Mystery in Rechargeable Battery Performance

Study reveals surprising, bad chemical reactivity in battery components previously considered compatible.

Changing the Surroundings Improves Catalysis

Water changes how cobalt-based molecule turns carbon dioxide into chemical feedstock.

How to Draw a Line Narrower Than a Cold Virus

Scientists use ion beams to write high-purity metal structures, enabling nanofabrication opportunities.

Powering Up With a Smart Window

Window material repeatedly switches from being see-through to blocking the heat and converting sunlight into electricity.


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