Carbon dioxide can be sucked out of the air (see News Feature, page 1094) and turned into a useful fuel using a metal-free catalyst.
The carbene catalyst — a compound with a pair of electrons available to react — is not only metal-free, and so better for the environment, it also works in air. Metal catalysts are often degraded by oxygen.
The system, which also uses a silicon-containing molecule, a silane, to activate carbon dioxide and drive the reaction, was developed by Jackie Ying, Yugen Zhang and Siti Nurhanna Riduan at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore.
The reaction product, methanol, can be turned into other carbon-based fuels, or used itself as a biofuel.