In the energy world, carbon capture technology is often seen as the Holy Grail: Imagine if we could just suck all pesky climate-changing CO² out of the atmosphere. Scientists at the DOE are hot on the problem. They have just identified a new material that not only captures CO², it helps convert the greenhouse gas into fuel.
It's called a copper tetramer, and it consists of small clusters of four copper atoms each, supported by a thin film of aluminium oxide. Copper tetramers bind tightly to CO² and help catalyse its conversion into methanol, which can be stored or burned again for fuel.
It's a great example of how new materials might help close the loop on carbon emissions. But the catalyst has a long way to go before it's ready for prime time. So far, scientists have only manufactured small amounts of the stuff, and the material's long-term durability is unknown. Concepts like this are exciting, but if we want to avoid the worst effects of climate change, there's no getting around the fact that we need to wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels in the first place.
Top image: Carbon tetramer catalyst, via Larry Curtiss, Argonne National Laboratory