What if we could turn CO₂ into something useful?

Publication in Nature Communications

Chemistry researchers from Utrecht University and Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Switzerland have uncovered the mechanism behind cobalt oxide as an active component for CO₂ conversion. “This is important fundamental knowledge that will allow us to develop better catalysts for the conversion of CO₂ to fuel,” says research leader Bert Weckhuysen. The researchers are publishing their results today in Nature Communications.

In the publication, the researchers describe how the conversion of CO₂ to fuel proceeds on the catalytic surfaces of cobalt oxide and metallic cobalt. The conversion of CO₂ to fuel offers perspectives for the future: transitioning from a linear society to a more sustainable, circular society. More specifically, such processes can reduce CO₂ emissions and provide a way to produce energy supplies, such as fuel and other chemical building blocks, directly from CO₂.

A notable aspect of this publication is that scientists typically assume that only metallic surfaces are active in catalytic processes. Here, the researchers show that cobalt oxide nanoparticles, stabilised on a titanium dioxide support material, are even more active in converting CO₂ than metallic cobalt nanoparticles on the same support material. Using infrared light, the researchers show that cobalt oxide follows a different reaction mechanism than metallic cobalt. The reaction mechanism of cobalt oxide produces longer hydrocarbon chains, which store more energy than short chains.

Schematisch overzicht van CO2-omzetting
Schematic overview of CO₂ conversion by cobalt (oxide) nanoparticles on titanium dioxide as a support material
Iris ten Have in het laboratorium

First author Iris ten Have and research leader Bert Weckhuysen already explained in 2020 in the tv programme Zapp Your Planet how CO₂ can be transformed into fuel with the current technology. However, they emphasise that doing more research is important to make this catalytic process more efficient and thus ultimately economically viable.


Uncovering the reaction mechanism behind CoO as active phase for CO₂ hydrogenation
Iris C. ten Have*, Josepha J. G. Kromwijk*, Matteo Monai*, Davide Ferri, Florian Meirer*, Bert M. Weckhuysen*
Nature Communications, 14 januari 2021, DOI 10.1038/s41467-022-27981-x

* Authors affiliated with Utrecht University