Engineers at the University of Cincinnati have developed an electrochemical system that could convert emissions from chemical and power plants into a valuable chemical, ethylene.
University of Cincinnati assistant professor of engineering Jingjie Wu and his students used a chemical process known as a two-step cascade reaction to convert carbon dioxide first to carbon monoxide then to ethylene, a chemical so important to manufacturing that it has been called “the world’s most important chemical.”
Ethylene is produced by the petrochemical industry by extracting it from oil and gas through multiple methods, processes that produce large amounts of greenhouse gas and other air pollution.
The ethylene produced from the engineers’ reaction could reduce the useful chemical’s carbon footprint.
“Ideally, we can remove greenhouse gas from the environment while simultaneously making fuels and chemicals,” said Wu. “The world is in a transition to a low-carbon economy. Carbon dioxide is primarily emitted from energy and chemical industries. We can convert carbon dioxide into ethylene to reduce the carbon footprint.”
Wu said the idea was inspired by the basic principle of the plug flow reactor, a model used in chemical engineering to describe chemical reactions in continuous, flowing systems of tubular design.
Right now, the process uses more energy than it produces in ethylene, but the engineers said they were working on a more efficient process that would be more commercially attractive to industry.