United States – A team of University of Illinois Chicago researchers has identified a method to transform 100% of carbon dioxide extracted from industrial exhaust into ethylene, a critical building element for plastic manufacturing.
As much as six tons of carbon dioxide can be recycled into one metric ton of ethylene using this method. Given that the system requires electricity to function, it is possible to achieve a net-negative carbon footprint by switching to renewable energy sources.
The method developed by the UIC group is the first to achieve near-complete carbon dioxide utilization in hydrocarbon production. Captured carbon dioxide gas is electrolyzed to produce high-purity ethylene and other carbon-based fuels in addition to oxygen.
After ammonia and cement, ethylene is the third most carbon-emitting industrial chemical in the world. Ethylene is used to make a wide variety of chemicals, including those found in antifreeze, medical sterilizers, and vinyl siding. It is also utilized in the production of plastic products for the packaging, agricultural, and automotive industries.
Researchers at UIC used an electrolysis method to create ethylene and other carbon-rich products with industrial applications. They also managed to convert 10% of the energy produced by the solar panels into carbon products, making this an extremely efficient system. They had a solar energy conversion efficiency of about 4% for all the ethylene they made, which is about the same as photosynthesis.