Maximizing Current Density for Electrochemical Conversion of Flue Gas Carbon Dioxide to Ethanol


ORNL catalyst made of copper  nanoparticles (seen as sphere)  embedded in carbon nanospikes
ORNL catalyst made of copper nanoparticles (seen as sphere) embedded in carbon nanospikes
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Website:  Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Award Number:  FWP-FEAA132
Project Duration:  08/15/2017 – 07/31/2018
Total Award Value:  $200,000
DOE Share:  $200,000
Performer Share:  $0
Technology Area:  Carbon Use and Reuse
Key Technology:  Chemical Conversion
Location:  Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Project Description

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will advance their recently discovered novel electrochemical catalyst that can be used to directly convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to ethanol. ORNL found in the first lab-scale proof-of-concept implementation that a solution of CO2 dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63 percent; typically, this type of electrochemical reaction results in a mix of various products in lesser amounts. The catalyst’s novelty lies in its nanoscale structure and consists of copper nanoparticles embedded in carbon spikes and avoids the use of expensive or rare metals, such as platinum, that limit the economic viability of many catalysts. The carbon nanospikes are dense, providing numerous reaction sites (approximately 10 trillion spikes per 8.5-inch by 11-inch sheet of paper) that concentrate electrochemical reactivity at the tip of each spike. ORNL will investigate strategies to maximize the catalyst’s current density for the production of ethanol, including implementation of an electrode with an enhanced electrochemical surface area, application of the catalyst to a vapor-phase cell configured using gas diffusion electrodes, and the evaluation of alternative electrolytes. Laboratory-scale electrochemical cells will be constructed for testing the catalyst with simulated flue gas to evaluate the impact of contaminants and optimize performance.

Project Benefits

This novel nano-structured catalyst, consisting of low-cost readily available materials and an ability to operate at room temperature, offers an economic strategy for the use of CO2 captured from coal-fired power plant flue gas in the production of ethanol, a clean-burning particulate-free fuel.

Contact Information

Federal Project Manager 
Sai Gollakota:
Technology Manager 
Lynn Brickett:
Principal Investigator 
Adam Rondinone:

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