Burning fossil fuels releases carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 while the production of many fuels and chemicals requires a supply of carbon. Using a class of nano-materials called metal-organic frameworks or "MOFs," carbon dioxide can be taken out of the atmosphere and combined with hydrogen atoms, to convert it into valuable chemicals and fuels
The team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh - Swanson School of Engineering found a MOF that could bend the CO2 molecules slightly, taking them to a state in which they react with hydrogen more easily. The process thus developed, outputs CH2O2 or formic acid, a chemical precursor to methanol. For this to occur, the molecules must overcome a demanding energy threshold called the ‘hydrogenation barrier’.
The key to decreasing the hydrogenation barrier was to identify a MOF capable of pre-activating carbon dioxide. The MOF they demonstrated in their work achieves pre-activation of CO2 by pushing it into a slightly bent geometry that is able to accept the incoming hydrogen atoms with a lower barrier.