Illinois Tech’s Breakthrough: Transforming CO2 into Propane for a Greener Future

Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, have unveiled a groundbreaking electrolyzer technology in a significant stride toward green energy. Detailed in a recent Nature Energy publication, this innovation can convert carbon dioxide into propane, presenting a scalable and economically feasible solution.

This advancement is especially pertinent as the United States aims for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The effort to diminish carbon dioxide emissions from power generation and industrial sources continues to develop. Assistant Professor Mohammad Asadi from Illinois Tech’s Chemical Engineering Department led this study.

Asadi emphasizes the importance of renewable chemical manufacturing: “This is key in completing the carbon cycle without losing the everyday chemicals we rely on.” His electrolyzer is distinguished by a novel catalytic system that employs cost-effective, abundant materials to generate tri-carbon molecules. These molecules are essential for producing fuels like propane, used in various applications, from home heating to aviation.

The research team combined experimental and computational methods to comprehensively understand the catalyst’s function, focusing on aspects that affect its reaction efficiency, selectivity, and durability.

A standout aspect of Asadi’s invention is using a flow electrolyzer, allowing for continuous propane production. This approach significantly leverages traditional batch processing, enhancing commercial viability.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Program Director Jack Lewnard lauds the creation of this laboratory-scale flow electrolyzer prototype. “Optimizing and scaling this prototype is crucial for a sustainable, cost-effective, and energy-efficient carbon capture and utilization process,” he says.

Asadi is no stranger to sustainable energy innovations. He developed a catalyst to produce ethanol from industrial waste gas carbon dioxide. Recognizing the potential of this green propane technology, he partnered with global propane distributor SHV Energy to expand and market the system.

Keith Simons, SHV Energy’s Head of Research and Development for Sustainable Fuels, hails this development as an exciting new avenue for sustainable propane production, benefiting global users of this vital fuel.

Contributions to this study also came from Illinois Tech’s Duchossois Leadership Professor and Physics Professor, Carlo Segre, University of Pennsylvania’s Materials Science and Engineering Professor, Andrew Rappe, and University of Illinois Chicago Professor, Reza Shahbazian-Yassar. Mohammadreza Esmaeilirad (PhD CHE’ 22) was the paper’s lead author.

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