UofL chemistry graduate student Jacob Strain conducts a catalysis experiment at the Conn Center
UofL chemistry graduate student Jacob Strain conducts a catalysis experiment at the Conn Center

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.

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 and Joshua Spurgeon, 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.”

Andrew Marsh
Andrew Marsh is the Assistant Director of the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, where he is responsible for daily operations, public relations and communications, and facilitating the growth of the center. He is the Program Officer for the UofL Leigh Ann Conn Prize for Renewable Energy, which recognizes outstanding renewable energy innovations with demonstrated commercial impact. Marsh is a metal and wood sculptor through his Lucky 7 Arts, LLC, chairs the board of directors for Josephine Sculpture Park, and was an artist in residence at City Museum.