"The key is to turn carbon dioxide into a useful material so it's no longer waste. We want the center to partner with energy companies -- including oil, natural gas and coal -- to make carbon a profitable resource," said James Tour, Rice's T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science.
"The whole idea," Tour added, "is to lower the carbon dioxide footprint and to show you don't have to get rid of anybody's energy source."
The researchers said that the rapid expansion of solar and wind energy and the promise of a hydrogen-based energy economy do not negate the continuing, long-term need for carbon-based energy.
They suggested carbon dioxide separated from hydrogen through steam methane reformation could either be repurposed immediately as a basic feedstock for chemicals or sequestered temporarily in tapped-out oil wells, which would hold vast amounts. Compressed and liquefied carbon could even replace another precious resource -- water-to enhance oil and gas recovery.
If an efficient catalytic process can be developed, water-based conversion of carbon dioxide back to methanol, formaldehyde or other small molecules "would be a tremendous scientific advance for humanity," the authors wrote.
They also noted a potential market for carbon dioxide in dry cleaning, where it could replace harmful chlorocarbons, and as a refrigerant to replace materials more than 1,000 times as potent as greenhouse gases.
The study is published in Nature Materials. (ANI)