Martian Fuel is Synthesized in a Carbon Dioxide Reactor.

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A gas station on ? Chemical engineers envision the possibilities.

Engineers at the University of Cincinnati are developing new ways to convert greenhouse gases to fuel to address climate change and get astronauts home from Mars.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science assistant professor Jingjie Wu and his students used a carbon catalyst in a reactor to convert carbon dioxide into methane. Known as the “Sabatier reaction” from the late French chemist Paul Sabatier, it’s a process the International Space Station uses to scrub the carbon dioxide from air the astronauts breathe and generate rocket fuel to keep the station in high orbit.

But Wu is thinking much bigger.

The Martian atmosphere is composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide. Astronauts could save half the fuel they need for a return trip home by making what they need on the red planet once they arrive, Wu said.

“It’s like a gas station on Mars. You could easily pump carbon dioxide through this reactor and produce methane for a rocket,” Wu said.

UC’s study was published in the journal Nature Communications with collaborators from Rice University, Shanghai University, and East China University of Science and Technology.

Wu began his career in chemical engineering by studying fuel cells for electric vehicles but began looking at carbon dioxide conversion in his chemical engineering lab about 10 years ago.

“I realized that greenhouse gases were going to be a big issue in society,” Wu said. “A lot of countries realized that carbon dioxide is a big issue for the sustainable development of our society. That’s why I think we need to achieve carbon neutrality.”

The Biden Administration has set a goal of achieving a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas pollutants by 2030 and an economy that relies on renewable energy by 2050.

“That means we’ll have to recycle carbon dioxide,” Wu said.

Wu and his students, including lead author and UC doctoral candidate Tianyu Zhang, are experimenting with different catalysts such as quantum dots — layers of carbon just nanometers big — that can increase the yield of methane.

“Right now we have excess green energy that we just throw away. We can store this excess renewable energy in chemicals.”

Jingjie Wu, UC assistant professor of chemical engineering

Wu said the process holds promise to help mitigate climate change. But it also has a big commercial advantage in producing fuel as a byproduct.

“The process is 100 times more productive than it was just 10 years ago…. Brinkwire News Summary.

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