In DepthMaterials Science

Without fossil fuels, reactors churn out chemicals

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Science  08 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6491, pp. 566-567
DOI: 10.1126/science.368.6491.566-b

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Summary

As windmills and solar panels multiply, the supply of renewable electricity sometimes exceeds demand. Chemists would like to put the excess to work making commodity chemicals, such as the raw material for fertilizer and plastics, which are now produced with heat, pressure, and copious fossil fuels. The electrochemical cells that can harness renewable electricity to make these compounds have been too slow to be practical. Now, two groups report redesigning the cells to achieve a dramatic speedup—perhaps enough to put green industrial chemistry within reach. One research group uses carbon dioxide as its starting material to make ethanol and ethylene, a starting point for plastics, and the other turns nitrogen from the air into ammonia, a key component in fertilizer. Both owe their progress to advances in the catalyst-coated electrodes that drive chemical reactions between gases and liquids.

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