Can We Reverse Global Warming By Turning Carbon Dioxide Back Into Coal?

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Fossil fuels like coal release harmful gases responsible for global warming (Credit: CSIRO/creativecommons.org/ CC-BY-3.0)

Carbon dioxide (CO2), released by activities like burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, is one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse effect, responsible for global warming. Over the years, scientists have come up with several innovative solutions to capture the polluting gas. However, none have been practical enough to implement on a large scale. Now, researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia believe they may have finally found a feasible way to reduce atmospheric CO2 – turning the gas back into coal!

"While we can't literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock," said study co-author Dr. Torben Daeneke.

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide warm up the Earth's surface and oceans (Credit: climate.nasa.gov)

The idea of transforming CO2 into coal has been contemplated before. However, the metal catalysts - compounds that accelerate the chemical reactions - used to convert the gas into solid carbon only work at temperatures above 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius). In addition to being expensive, the high amount of energy needed for the conversion defeats the purpose of the exercise altogether. Additionally, the catalysts also tend to quickly clog from the carbon deposits, making them ineffective for long-term use.​​​​

To find a viable solution, the RMIT researchers began by creating a liquid catalyst - a mix of gallium, indium, and tin. To speed up the alloy's chemical reaction, the mixture was infused with catalytically-active cerium. The scientists than piped pure CO2 into the glass tube and zapped it with a jolt of electricity. The combination of the cerium and energy converted the gas into solid carbon, releasing only pure oxygen.

RMIT researchers found a way to transform CO2 to coal at room temperature (Credit: RMIT University/Nature Communications)

Additionally, the carbon flakes float away and settle along the sides and bottom of the liquid metal, leaving the cerium clog-free to continue its work. While the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications on February 26, 2019, are not sure how the conversion happens, they suspect it's a multi-stage process, which involves the cerium reacting with oxygen, CO2, and water.

Bert Weckhuysen, a chemist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, calls the study's results “novel” and “quite nice.” The researcher believes the carbon produced could be used to create materials for a variety of things, including battery electrodes, tennis rackets, and even airplane wings.

Whether the laboratory experiment can be replicated on a scale large enough to make a difference to our environment remains to be seen. But Dr. Dorna Esrafilzadeh, a doctoral fellow at RMIT University who spearheaded the research, is optimistic. The researcher says, “By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable. While more research needs to be done, it’s a crucial first step to delivering solid storage of carbon.”

Resources: phys.org, sciencemag.org,nature.com

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acceleratecatalystsclogcontemplatedconversioncrucialfeasiblefossilgalliumgreenhouse effectimplementindiuminfusedjoltoptimisticpracticalreplicatedspearheadedtendtransforming 
294 Comments
  • fnaf fan 100000Wednesday, June 19, 2019 at 9:38 am
    so by using oxygen we can stop global warming???????? who plays roblox??/
    • in2th3n3th3r
      in2th3n3th3rFriday, May 31, 2019 at 5:44 am
      If the idea pulls through, it will make history. You can see it in the headlines, "Carbon Machine Saves The Earth!"
      • ¥øü® ∂å∂¿Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 4:29 pm
        this is extremely useful. If some people experiment with this idea, maybe we can save this planet. This shouldn't be hidden, and something like this is big enough to be on the news.
        • qwertyMonday, May 27, 2019 at 6:56 am
          @xdcotton_candy- people also thought that the world was going into another ice age around 40 years ago and that we were all going to die in 2000 so i don't think that the world will end in 12 years. However we do need to be a more careful and plant/protect more trees. This is a highly useful discovery.
          • xdcotton_candy
            xdcotton_candyMonday, May 20, 2019 at 11:04 am
            Some people think in 12 years if we don’t fix climate change and pollution and all of that stuff it’s all over (the world will end)😬😭
            • twovut
              twovutTuesday, September 3, 2019 at 3:50 pm
              I know climate change is bad,but it's not able to end the world.In 100000000000000000000000 million years it will end,but don't worry bout it!🙂
              • maserpiece2012
                maserpiece2012Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 8:14 am
                No. It will happen in about a few hundred million years.
            • NinjaProMLGSunday, May 19, 2019 at 8:00 am
              This is a cool article ,but how about the ocean pollution?
              • ILOVETURTLESWednesday, May 15, 2019 at 1:44 pm
                What about the pollution in the ocean? Isn't anyone going to come up with some idea to save those poor sea creatures? Those poor baby turtles getting crushed by cars heading in the wrong direction confused by the lights?
                • epic1013
                  epic1013Friday, May 17, 2019 at 9:20 am
                  i totally disaggree with u. turtls dont matter they are notuseful
                  • maserpiece2012
                    maserpiece2012Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 8:15 am
                    But they are cute.
                • pewdiepieTuesday, May 14, 2019 at 12:24 pm
                  *so cool*
                  • pewdiepieTuesday, May 14, 2019 at 12:10 pm
                    it sa kool
                    • pewdiepieTuesday, April 30, 2019 at 7:43 am
                      this is a amazing article