Organic chemists would say that it shouldn’t be possible because water and olefins don’t react with one another. But what if we use electricity to liberate the oxygen atoms in water? Electrochemistry causes interesting things to happen—and it’s at the heart of what our group does.
Karthish Manthiram, assistant professor
Making raw materials for the manufacture of consumer goods produces high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, involves hazardous materials, and requires high temperatures and pressures, usually generated by burning fossil fuels. MIT chemical engineers have now demonstrated a new approach that can operate on water plus electricity from renewable sources. Energized by a well-known catalyst, the process forms no CO2 emissions, requires no hazardous materials or extreme operating conditions, and generates just one byproduct—hydrogen. While much work remains, this new approach—relying on electricity and electrocatalysts—could one day significantly reduce the vast amounts of CO2 produced by the chemical industry today.