Cornell scientists convert carbon dioxide, create electricity.

ITHACA, N.Y. – While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.

“Carbon capture” technologies – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere – is one approach. In a recent study, Cornell University researchers disclose a novel method for capturing the greenhouse gas and converting it to a useful product – while producing electrical energy.


The O2-assisted Al/CO2 electrochemical cell:
A system for CO2 capture/conversion and electric power generation


Economical and efficient carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration technologies are a requirement for successful implementation of global action plans to reduce carbon emissions and to mitigate climate change. These technologies are also essential for longer-term use of fossil fuels while reducing the associated carbon footprint.

We demonstrate an O2-assisted Al/CO2 electrochemical cell as a new approach to sequester CO2 emissions and, at the same time, to generate substantial amounts of electrical energy.

We report on the fundamental principles that guide operations of these cells using multiple intrusive electrochemical and physical analytical methods, including chronopotentiometry, cyclic voltammetry, direct analysis in real-time mass spectrometry, energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and coupled thermogravimetric analysis–Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy.

On this basis, we demonstrate that an electrochemical cell that uses metallic aluminum as anode and a carbon dioxide/oxygen gas mixture as the active material in the cathode provides a path toward electrochemical generation of a valuable (C2) species and electrical energy.

Specifically, we show that the cell first reduces O2 at the cathode to form superoxide intermediates. Chemical reaction of the superoxide with CO2 sequesters the CO2 in the form of aluminum oxalate, Al2(C2O4)3, as the dominant product.

On the basis of an analysis of the overall CO2 footprint, which considers emissions associated with the production of the aluminum anode and the CO2captured/abated by the Al/CO2-O2 electrochemical cell, we conclude that the proposed process offers an important strategy for net reduction of CO2 emissions.