Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Surface Reactivity of Activated CO2 Selective use of energy in splitting CO2

How can we convert CO2 into useful fuels using renewable energy?

Ludo Juurlink

Dr. Michael Gleeson (DIFFER)

We would like to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas CO2. For both practical and commercial reasons it is preferable to do this by converting it in an energy efficient manner to useful fuels. This process should utilize renewable energy, which currently effectively means electrical energy. Plasma excitation of molecules is an efficient means of transferring electrical energy into chemical energy.

Unfortunately, the CO2 molecule resembles an iron bar. It is linear, stiff, and very difficult to break. However, it also ‘sings’ when it is brought into a vibration state in the right way. And just like crystal glass can be broken through vibrations, CO2 can also break when subjected to selective excitation.

In industry, a catalyst is used to convert CO2. Extreme conditions are required to get CO2 to split one of its two C-O bonds in one of a sequence of small steps. The question is whether this can be achieved more efficiently via plasma, for instance by exciting CO2 vibrations instead of making the molecule fly faster before it impinges onto a catalyst.

The efficiency with which this can be done is to be investigated by Dr Michael Gleeson at FOM Institute DIFFER and by Dr Ludo Juurlink of Leiden University. In Leiden, the relative efficacies of vibrational and kinetic energy are determined for the dissociation of CO2 on catalytically active metal surfaces. At DIFFER plasma conditions and the efficiency of exciting CO2 vibrations from the electrical energy stored in plasma are investigated. If vibrating CO2 does not dissociate within the plasma, they will have the excited molecules impinge onto an active metal.

The two principle investigators have known each other for years and are eager to get started in their first joint project. In this project the central theme is energy efficiency and how this is achieved. But efficiency is also realized in their combined use of expensive research equipment. An exclusive laser system is to be purchased that will be utilized as an integral part of the research at both institutes. Two ultrahigh vacuum systems, one in each location, are to be adapted to facilitate the new experiments. Preparations are already underway in order to ensure a rapid ramp-up of the proposed programme. 

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