A carbon dioxide reactor will produce fuel for Mars

A carbon dioxide reactor will produce fuel for Mars

Jingjie Wu, assistant professor at UC College of Engineering and Applied Science, and his students used a carbon catalyst in a reactor to convert carbon dioxide into methane. Known as the "Sabatier reaction" by French chemist Paul Sabatier, it is a process the International Space Station uses to remove carbon dioxide from the air that astronauts breathe and generate rocket fuel to keep the station in high orbit. br>
The Martian atmosphere is composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide. Astronauts could save half the fuel they need for a trip home, Wu explained.

"I realized that greenhouse gases would be a big problem in society," Wu said . "Many countries have realized that carbon dioxide is a big problem for the sustainable development of our society. That's why I think we need to achieve carbon neutrality. ”

The Biden administration has set a goal of achieving a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas pollutants by 2030 and an economy based on renewable energy by 2050. "This means we will have to recycle carbon dioxide," said Wu.

Wu and his students are experimenting with different catalysts such as quantum dots of graphene - carbon layers only nanometers large - which can increase the yield of methane. The process promises to help mitigate climate change, but it also has a major commercial advantage in producing fuel as a by-product.

Wu's students are also using different catalysts to produce not only methane but ethylene, a chemical used in the production of plastics, rubber, synthetic clothing and other products. Synthesizing fuel from carbon dioxide would then become even more commercially sustainable if renewable energy were used, Wu explained. “Right now we have an excess of green energy that we throw away. We can store this excess renewable energy in chemicals, "he said.

The process is scalable for use in power plants capable of generating tons of carbon dioxide. And it is efficient because the conversion can take place precisely where excess carbon dioxide is produced.