Lessons from Nature: Mimicking Photosynthesis to Capture and Transform Carbon Dioxide into Renewable Fuels

Despite the expanding transition to renewable energy sources, the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide (CO2) is projected to continue to rise for decades to come.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledge that large-scale technologies capable of removing CO2 from the air are critical to achieving a climate outcome aligned with the Paris Agreement.  So-called negative emission technologies (NETs) are vital for reaching net zero emissions by 2050, even in scenarios where the rapid deployment of renewable energy is realised. 

Tree cycle capturing Carbon DioxideEcomag MOF technology replicating trees

Once captured, the question remains of what to do with all the carbon?  One approach is to sequester CO2 underground in geologically stable reservoirs.  A complementary strategy is to take a cue from nature and transform the captured CO2 into something society can reuse.  The idea of closing the carbon loop mimics the way plants undergo photosynthesis.  When combined with renewable hydrogen, CO2 can be converted into an array of important chemical feedstocks currently derived from fossil fuels. 

The challenge is that carbon dioxide is a very stable molecule.  Therefore, a catalyst is required to effectively reduce the amount of energy required to transform the CO2 into something more useful. 

EcoMag is working with UNSW’s Particle and Catalysis Research Group led by Prof Rose Amal and the CSIRO to develop Magnesium-based materials that can bridge the gap between carbon capture and utilisation.  The class of porous materials being targeted are known as metal-organic frameworks.  MOFs are materials made up of metal ion ‘hubs’, linked together with organic ‘struts’ to make structures of ultrahigh porosity.  About a teaspoon of these remarkable crystals possess the same surface area as an entire football field.  With all this room inside, MOFs can be put to work as tiny sponges. 

Excitingly, Magnesium-based MOFs are particularly good at capturing carbon dioxide.  By doping these structures with active nanoparticles, we have shown that we can convert the captured CO2 into renewable fuels.  The idea is that these two components can work in unison.  The magnesium-based MOF can soak up the CO2 while the doped nanoparticles are able to facilitate the transformation. 

The collaborative effort is currently screening a variety of Magnesium-based MOFs to uncover the most commercially viable option.  EcoMag’s array of high purity magnesium products are a perfect platform for formulating these revolutionary structures.  By tuning the organic component used in material construction, it is possible to tune the pore size and chemistry of the resulting MOF, opening the door to a broad range of applications including air filtration, chemical sensing and drug delivery.  Feel free to share a link to our latest publication in Advanced Functional Materials: