UofL researchers developing method to convert carbon dioxide to usable products Project to develop CO2 catalysts receives funding from National Science Foundation

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    UofL chemistry graduate student Jacob Strain conducts a catalysis experiment at the Conn Center. UofL photo by Tom Fougerousse.
    UofL chemistry graduate student Jacob Strain conducts a catalysis experiment at the Conn Center. UofL photo by Tom Fougerousse.

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Scientists at the University of Louisville received new support for developing a method to sustainably sequester and convert carbon dioxide to valuable products. The three-year project on catalysts for CO2 is funded by the Catalysis Program of the Chemistry Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    Carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution, human-caused emissions of CO2 – primarily from combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation – have rapidly increased its concentration in the atmosphere, leading to global climate change. Projected increases in worldwide energy usage will result in even higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels unless practical alternatives are developed. The new funded research has the potential to decrease CO2 emissions by creating a profitable pathway to convert this waste into marketable industrial chemicals such as solvents, alcohols, acids and polymer precursors.

    NSF funding of the UofL team focuses on development of new catalyst materials using the principle of cooperativity to capture carbon dioxide and convert it to fuels and chemical products. The catalyst employs an abundant metal, such as zinc, within a supporting framework. The catalyst works synergistically with an alloy electrode to generate higher value products.

    The research is led by chemistry professor Craig Grapperhaus, Ph.D. and Joshua Spurgeon, Ph.D., theme leader for Solar Fuels at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering. Funding of $323,542 over three years was secured by Grapperhaus and Spurgeon to conduct the research, which includes opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and high school students.

    “Rising CO2 levels are a serious problem,” Grapperhaus said. “The technology from this research could be used to treat carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion directly at the source. We may even be able to directly convert atmospheric carbon dioxide, too.”

    “The thoughtful design of molecular catalysts such as these gives us the opportunity to achieve greater control over the products we make, which may ultimately make chemicals and fuels from CO2 commercially viable,” Spurgeon said. “The Conn Center is excited to collaborate with the Department of Chemistry and NSF to develop these advances in green, sustainable chemistry.”

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    Betty Coffman
    Betty Coffman is a Health Communications Specialist, working on the Health Sciences Campus with departments in the School of Medicine. A UofL alumna and Louisville native, she served as a writer and editor for local and national publications and as an account services coordinator and copywriter for marketing and design firms prior to joining UofL’s Office of Marketing and Communications.