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Plasmonic Heating for Catalytic Co2 Conversion and Utilization

Date Posted
U.S. Patent Pending


Research is active on the patent pending technology titled, "Method of Conducting a Thermally Driven Reaction Using Plasmonic Heating." This technology is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.


Conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable intermediates such as methane, carbon monoxide, and other light gases will help offset the cost of deploying CO2 capture technologies. Efficient management of CO2 will allow for the continued use of fossil-derived energy while mitigating the climate impacts associated with carbon emissions.

This invention is a nanocatalyst capable of efficiently converting low intensity visible light into thermal energy using a mechanism called plasmonic heating. By coupling plasmonically active materials, such as gold nanoparticles, to catalytically active zinc oxide, this heating approach can be used for the conversion of CO2 and hydrogen (H2) to methane (CH4) and carbon monoxide (CO).

Upon exposure to light, free electrons on the surface of the metal become excited, transforming the optical energy into heat. Experimental results show that low-intensity visible light can heat the gold-zinc oxide catalysts up to approximately 600˚C in a controllable manner, with light intensity dictating which gas product is produced. The heating is highly localized and only the gases and materials in close contact with the plasmonic material undergo a temperature increase.

The catalysts are robust and remain active after repeated light exposure and cycling, reducing CO2 conversion cost. Use of natural sunlight for this process improves efficiency and reduces the cost of using CO2. The results of this work are further described in an article appearing in the journal Nanoscale, 5, 6968, 2013. A video describing CO2 conversion by nanoheaters can be viewed here.

  • Technology is specifically designed for CO2 utilization
  • Temperature of the catalyst is controlled by light intensity, leading to catalytic selectivity for end products
  • Photocatalytic process utilizes low intensity, visible light rather than ultraviolet
  • Plasmonic heating is highly localized, reducing heat management issues during scale up
  • Water-gas shift and reverse water-gas shift reactions
  • Steam reforming of CH4 to produce H2
  • Dry reforming of CH4 to produce H2 Methanol synthesis from CO2 and H2
  • Thermal regeneration of metal oxide sorbents

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