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Fuel-Making Solar Nanotube Device Eats CO2

Developments in Nanotechnology continue apace, and a new invention using nanotubes promises an eco-friendly approach to both consume CO2 and produce useful fuel as a bi-product.

The device was created at Pennsylvania State University and it’s an innovative development of existing tech that uses titanium dioxide nanoparticles and ultraviolet light to convert CO2. Penn State’s innovation will form the TiO2 into nanotubes that are around 135nm wide and 40 microns long–that gives the resulting compound a dramatically increased surface area. The nanotubes are then coated with catalytic copper and platinum to increase the effectiveness of the system.

When a group of the nanotubes are exposed to sunlight, CO2 and water vapor, the solar energy converts the gasses into a mix of organic compounds like methane, ethane and propane. The process works at a rate as fast as 160 microliters an hour per gram of nanotubes, and that’s twenty times faster than previous attempts to convert CO2 in this manner.

At a certain point in the conversion, the gasses form a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide that can be converted into diesel.

As a result, the nanotech device could sweep CO2 from the atmosphere, and turn it into fuel for methane-powered fuel cells or conventionally-powered diesel vehicles. Though of course the CO2 is ultimately returned to the atmosphere if it’s utilized in this way, the technology could be used to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, either directly used as gasoline or diesel, or in power stations–for electrically-powered vehicles.

The environmental benefits are hugely promising–assuming that nanotube production can be achieved with a low eco-footprint–which is why the team is working to commercialize the technology beyond its experimental status.