Can We Reverse Global Warming By Turning Carbon Dioxide Back Into Coal?

By

CCSS NAS-4 NCSS-3 471 Words 3-Minute Listen
Fossil fuels like coal release harmful gases responsible for global warming (Credit: CSIRO/creativecommons.org/ CC-BY-3.0)

Carbon dioxide (CO2), released by activities like burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, is one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse effect, responsible for global warming. Over the years, scientists have come up with several innovative solutions to capture the polluting gas. However, none have been practical enough to implement on a large scale. Now, researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia believe they may have finally found a feasible way to reduce atmospheric CO2 – turning the gas back into coal!

"While we can't literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock," said study co-author Dr. Torben Daeneke.

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide warm up the Earth's surface and oceans (Credit: climate.nasa.gov)

The idea of transforming CO2 into coal has been contemplated before. However, the metal catalysts - compounds that accelerate the chemical reactions - used to convert the gas into solid carbon only work at temperatures above 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius). In addition to being expensive, the high amount of energy needed for the conversion defeats the purpose of the exercise altogether. Additionally, the catalysts also tend to quickly clog from the carbon deposits, making them ineffective for long-term use.​​​​

To find a viable solution, the RMIT researchers began by creating a liquid catalyst - a mix of gallium, indium, and tin. To speed up the alloy's chemical reaction, the mixture was infused with catalytically-active cerium. The scientists than piped pure CO2 into the glass tube and zapped it with a jolt of electricity. The combination of the cerium and energy converted the gas into solid carbon, releasing only pure oxygen.

RMIT researchers found a way to transform CO2 to coal at room temperature (Credit: RMIT University/Nature Communications)

Additionally, the carbon flakes float away and settle along the sides and bottom of the liquid metal, leaving the cerium clog-free to continue its work. While the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications on February 26, 2019, are not sure how the conversion happens, they suspect it's a multi-stage process, which involves the cerium reacting with oxygen, CO2, and water.

Bert Weckhuysen, a chemist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, calls the study's results “novel” and “quite nice.” The researcher believes the carbon produced could be used to create materials for a variety of things, including battery electrodes, tennis rackets, and even airplane wings.

Whether the laboratory experiment can be replicated on a scale large enough to make a difference to our environment remains to be seen. But Dr. Dorna Esrafilzadeh, a doctoral fellow at RMIT University who spearheaded the research, is optimistic. The researcher says, “By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable. While more research needs to be done, it’s a crucial first step to delivering solid storage of carbon.”

Resources: phys.org, sciencemag.org,nature.com

Get the Workbook for this article!

Workbook contains: Article, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking Questions, Vocabulary in Context (+ answers), Multiple Choice Quiz (+ answers), Parts of Speech Quiz (+ answers), Vocabulary Game (+ answers)
Cite Article
302 Comments
  • kittylover111
    Cool process pic!
    • bsc
      bsc7 months
      Huh. I hope this works! There is no planet B!
      • schoppmeg13
        schoppmeg135 months
        yea I really hope it works to and yea lol there is no planet B!
      • summer07226
        summer072268 months
        Save the earth !!!😊😊😊
        • cr4td4l
          cr4td4labout 1 year
          I hope they succeed. Nature and the whole world depends on it! We have to save the Earth! Like and follow if you agree!
          • Todalmost 2 years
            This is awesome it could change the world!
            • buurlove
              buurlovealmost 2 years
              Wow! This info helps me by a LOT for my current event project on Global Warming! Thanks for showing me this!
              • DanTDMalmost 2 years
                Wow. I made a whole lot of videos, and yet this is the most brilliant article I have ever encountered. Very nicely well done.
                • fnaf fan 100000over 2 years
                  so by using oxygen we can stop global warming???????? who plays roblox??/
                • in2th3n3th3r
                  in2th3n3th3rover 2 years
                  If the idea pulls through, it will make history. You can see it in the headlines, "Carbon Machine Saves The Earth!"
                  • ¥øü® ∂å∂¿over 2 years
                    this is extremely useful. If some people experiment with this idea, maybe we can save this planet. This shouldn't be hidden, and something like this is big enough to be on the news.