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Mar 122009

By John DeFore
Green Right Now

File this under Sounds Too Good To Be True: Researchers using nanomaterials at Penn State are experimenting with a device that changes carbon dioxide into methane that can be used as transportation fuel.

Chronicling their experiments in the journal Nano Letters, team leader Craig Grimes describes an array of nanotubes that were coated with catalyst layers of platinum and/or copper, then stuck in a stainless steel chamber with some CO2-loaded water vapor and placed in the sun. After a few hours, the catalyst had turned some of the carbon dioxide into methane.

Similar transformations have been accomplished before using ultraviolet light in labs, but had produced much lower methane levels. According to an announcement made by the university, Grimes thinks his process “can readily be improved by several orders of magnitude, which could make the process economically feasible.”

Doing that might involve attaching solar condensers to a source of concentrated CO2 — like power plants that burn fossil fuels to make electricity. Grimes goes further, adding, “Then maybe we could figure out how to capture and reuse the CO2 in our vehicles and none of it would go back into the atmosphere.”

Further research, it goes without saying, is needed — but the team believes drastic improvements on current results are within reach.

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