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Environment

In ‘Accidental’ Win for the Planet, Scientists Convert CO2 Into Ethanol

Guy Gorek/Flickr

Move over Captain Planet these scientists may have found a solution to all our environmental and energy problems.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee “accidentally” figured out how to reverse the process of carbon dioxide combustion, turning the abundant climate-warming greenhouse gas into ethanol. This ethanol can actually be used for fuel in cars and to store excess energy from solar and wind power.

The humble and honest scientists, who discovered the electrochemical process that could save the planet, had this to say:

“We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked. We were trying to study the first step of a proposed reaction when we realized that the catalyst was doing the entire reaction on its own,” said Adam Rondinone, head author of the team’s study published in ChemistrySelect.

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Nanotechnology also played a role in their discovery.

“By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” said Rondinone.

The best part of this project, however, is that the materials used are relatively inexpensive — meaning that there is potential for the experiment can be used on an industrial scale.

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Researchers used copper, carbon, and nitrogen to initiate a complex reaction that reverses the combustion process. Aiming to generate methanol, the research team ended up with ethanol and zero disappointment.

Currently, humans emit 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, which traps heat and causes the planet’s temperature to warm at an alarming rate. Being able to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol before it reaches the atmosphere on a large scale would be legendary in combatting climate change.

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"Carbon dioxide is a problem right now. If we can use it, then we're preventing it from going into the atmosphere," said Rondinone.

Throughout time researchers, alchemists, and scientists’ blunders have helped humanity leading to breakthrough innovations from X-rays to penicillin.

This discovery could be one to save both human health and the well-being of the planet.

Check out the full study at ChemistrySelect here