Scientists develop nano-scale copper cube reactor to convert carbon monoxide to acetic acid
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Carbon monoxide is usually a by-product of industrial processes. Although it is not a direct greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it may be an indoor or urban air pollutant , It is harmful to human health at higher concentrations.
In the new study, Rice University researchers have developed a method to turn this potentially hazardous waste into something of value. Acetic acid is used in foods such as vinegar and a series of industrial processes and products as preservatives and solvents. Based on the previous device used by the team to convert carbon dioxide to formic acid, the new reactor converts carbon monoxide to acetic acid.
“We are upgrading the product from the one-carbon compound formic acid, which is more challenging,” said Wang Haotian (transliteration), the author of the study. “People traditionally produce acetic acid in liquid electrolytes, but they still have problems with poor performance and separation of the product from the electrolyte.”
In this case, the electrolyte is solid. It interacts with a catalyst composed of nano-scale copper cubes. These copper cubes are carefully designed with ripples on the surface to help break certain carbon-oxygen bonds and convert the gas into the desired product.
“Sometimes copper produces chemicals in two different ways,” Wang Haotian said. “It can convert carbon monoxide into acetic acid and alcohol. We designed a copper cube with one surface as the main surface to help this carbon-carbon coupling, and its edge can guide the carbon-carbon coupling to acetic acid instead of other products.”</ p>
Deionized water enters the reactor through a pipe, where it is mixed with acetic acid to produce a usable solution. The remaining gas is discharged in the form of oxygen.
In laboratory tests, the device has been running continuously for 150 hours, and the acetic acid content in the solution produced is as high as 2%–even if compared with the 4% acetic acid content of vinegar, it is a weak solution. But useful enough. The purity of the acid component itself is as high as 98%. The team said that in order to make the system scalable, more work needs to be done to improve the system, including making it more stable and energy-efficient.
The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.