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Researchers transform CO2 into valuable source material

A catalyst for carbon dioxide recycling, the mineral pentlandite, may also be a ‘conceivable alternative’ to expensive precious metal catalysts, German researchers claim.

Pentlandite consists of iron, nickel and sulphur and resembles catalytically active enzymes that occur in nature, such as hydrogen-producing hydrogenases. It now seems possible to utilise electrodes from the mineral, according to a joint study from Ruhr University Bochum, the Fraunhofer Institute in Oberhausen and Berlin’s Fritz-Haber Institute.

The materials specialists point out that pentlandite had previously been known as a catalyst for hydrogen production. By adding a suitable solvent, they successfully used it to convert carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which is a common source material in the chemical industry.

Very stable

‘A huge advantage of the mineral pentlandite is the fact that it remains stable when confronted with other chemical compounds that occur in industrial emissions and are poison to many catalysts,’ says Ulf-Peter Apfel, who led the research project at Ruhr University Bochum. ‘The decisive factor was water being present at the electrode surface,’ he explains.

Using more water shifted the reaction towards hydrogen production, using less made the process go towards carbon monoxide production. By adjusting the water content, the researchers were thus able to generate carbon monoxide and hydrogen mixtures. ‘Synthetic gas mixtures like this one play a crucial role in the chemical industry,’ Apfel adds.

The researchers conclude that the conversion of CO2 into valuable source materials for the chemical industry is a ‘promising approach’ to combatting climate change.

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