265: Reverse fuel cell


A University of Toronto engineering team, headed by Professor Ted Sargent, announced the development of an electrolyzer that can make valuable chemicals from captured CO₂ and clean electricity at 10 times the speed of existing electrolyzers.

The device is similar to a fuel cell except running in reverse. In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen combine on the surface of a catalyst, releasing electrons. In the electrolyzer, the electricity drives the reaction, transforming the hydrogen ions in water and CO₂ into another carbon-based molecule like ethylene.

The U of T research team’ electrolyzer design speeds up the process by pairing a copper-based catalyst composed of small particles embedded in a layer of Nafion, an ion-conducing polymer commonly used in fuel cells.

In their experiments, they proposed that a certain arrangement of Nafion can facilitate the transport of gases such as CO₂. The next step will be to boost the catalyst’s durability so it lasts for thousands of hours rather than its current 10 hour lifespan. In addition, team members will also work on optimizing the system to product other carbon-based products like ethanol.

Discover Solution 266: SCoPEx

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