Gold- copper nanoparticles catalyze carbon dioxide reduction

Gold- copper nanoparticles to catalyze carbon dioxide reduction

8:02 AM, 17th April 2012
Gold- copper nanoparticles to catalyze carbon dioxide reduction
Researchers have combined gold nanoparticles with copper nanoparticles to form hybrid nanoparticles, which they turned into powder to catalyze carbon dioxide reduction.

CAMBRIDGE, US: Copper is one of the few metals that can turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels with relatively little energy. When fashioned into an electrode and stimulated with voltage, copper acts as a strong catalyst, setting off an electrochemical reaction with carbon dioxide that reduces the greenhouse gas to methane or methanol. But copper is easily oxidized. As a result, the metal is unstable, which can significantly slow its reaction with carbon dioxide and produce unwanted byproducts such as carbon monoxide and formic acid.

Researchers at MIT have come up with a solution that may further reduce the energy needed for copper to convert carbon dioxide, while also making the metal much more stable. The group has engineered tiny nanoparticles of copper mixed with gold, which is resistant to corrosion and oxidation. The researchers observed that just a touch of gold makes copper much more stable. In experiments, they coated electrodes with the hybrid nanoparticles and found that much less energy was needed for these engineered nanoparticles to react with carbon dioxide, compared to nanoparticles of pure copper.

“You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful. We demonstrated hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles are much more stable, and have the potential to lower the energy you need for the reaction. The smaller the particles, the larger the surface area available for interaction with carbon dioxide molecules,” said Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, Associate Professor, MIT.

To make the nanoparticles, Hamad-Schifferli and her colleagues mixed salts containing gold into a solution of copper salts. They heated the solution, creating nanoparticles that fused copper with gold. Zhichuan Xu, Postdoctoral Researcher, MIT then put the nanoparticles through a series of reactions, turning the solution into a powder that was used to coat a small electrode.

To test the nanoparticles’ reactivity, Xu placed the electrode in a beaker of solution and bubbled carbon dioxide into it. He applied a small voltage to the electrode, and measured the resulting current in the solution. The team reasoned that the resulting current would indicate how efficiently the nanoparticles were reacting with the gas, if CO2 molecules were reacting with sites on the electrode and then releasing to allow other CO2 molecules to react with the same sites- the current would appear as a certain potential was reached, indicating regular ‘turnover.’

The team ultimately found that the potential applied to reach a steady current was much smaller for hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles than for pure copper and gold — an indication that the amount of energy required to run the reaction was much lower than that required when using nanoparticles made of pure copper. Hamad-Schifferli acknowledges that coating industrial-scale electrodes partly with gold can get expensive. However, the energy savings and the reuse potential for such electrodes may balance the initial costs.

© MIT News

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