MIT Energy Initiative

Converting greenhouse gas into fuel

New catalyst provides design principles for producing fuels from carbon dioxide emissions

Credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT

If we used renewable electricity to convert captured CO2 emissions back into a fuel, we’d essentially reverse combustion and have a carbon-neutral energy cycle.

Yogesh Surendranath, Professor of Chemisty

MIT chemists have demonstrated major advances in the design of a device that could one day take carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion and—powered by renewable energy—turn them back into high-quality fuels. By examining the individual steps that convert key chemicals inside the device, they’ve identified ways to redesign the catalyst they use so that it selectively encourages the formation of compounds suitable for making fuels. For example, making the catalyst thick and porous significantly increases the production of carbon monoxide, which can be converted to a variety of liquid fuels. Controlling nanoscale features on the catalyst’s surface should further enhance carbon monoxide production. This work provides a compelling demonstration of how fundamental analyses can guide catalyst design—a persistent challenge in many important chemical systems.

Research Team