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Researchers have moved one step closer to tackling global warming by turning carbon dioxide into fuel, using a supercomputer to identify a group of "single-atom" catalysts that could play a key role.
Researchers at Queensland University of Technology Materials Science Centre "By Associate Professor", part of an international study, used theoretical models to determine that six metals (nickel, niobium, palladium, rhenium and rhodium) were found to be efficient in the reaction of converting carbon dioxide into sustainable clean energy.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was carried out by QUT researchers Professor Aijun Du, Professor Yuantong Gu and Dr. Ju Lin.
The research, conducted through simulations at the Australian National University National Computing Infrastructure, looked at how individual atoms of metals react with two-dimensional "ferroelectric" materials, said Professor Kou.
Ferroelectric materials have a positive charge on one side and a negative charge on the other, and this polarization can be reversed when a voltage is applied.
In a theoretical model, the researchers found that adding catalyst metal atoms to ferroelectric materials can convert greenhouse gases into needed chemical fuels.
Once polarity reverses, this state remains a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide.
Professor Kou says that although the use of single-atom catalysts to reduce carbon dioxide was proposed a decade ago, this study takes the field a big step forward.
"We have designed a special chemical catalyst that converts the greenhouse gas CARBON dioxide into the chemical fuel needed. Conversion efficiency can be controlled in a feasible way, "said Professor Kou.
"This means that for the first time we have developed the ability to speed up or slow down chemical reactions, or even switch chemical reactions.
"Carbon dioxide is the main cause of global warming caused by the greenhouse effect, and converting it into chemical fuels is not only important for our environment but also helps solve the energy crisis."
Dr. Zhu, the lead author of the study, said the work provided guidance for the design of new catalysts that could have a major impact on the chemical industry.
Professor Kou said the long-term goal of this field of research is to find ways to convert carbon dioxide into clean energy.
Professor Kou says the results of this research could eventually lead to a way to add a coating to engines or industrial systems that converts carbon dioxide rather than releasing more of the gas into the atmosphere.
QUT researchers are drawn from the faculties of Mechanical, Medical and Process Engineering and chemistry and physics.
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