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Berkeley Lab staff validates bio-analogous approach for changing CO2 into liquid acetate

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Nationwide Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have demonstrated a brand new approach, modeled after a metabolic course of present in some micro organism, for changing CO2 into liquid acetate, a key ingredient in “liquid daylight” or photo voltaic fuels produced via synthetic photosynthesis.

The work, reported in a paper in Nature Catalysis, can also be the primary demonstration of a tool that mimics how these micro organism naturally synthesize acetate from electrons and CO2.

C–C coupling is a crucial step of CO2 fixation in developing the carbon skeleton of value-added multicarbon merchandise. The Wooden–Ljungdahl pathway is an environment friendly pure course of via which microbes rework CO2 into methyl and carbonyl teams and subsequently couple them collectively. This uneven coupling mechanism stays largely unexplored in inorganic CO2 electroreduction.

Right here we experimentally validate the uneven coupling pathway via isotope-labelled co-reduction experiments on a Cu floor the place 13CH3I and 12CO are co-fed externally because the methyl and the carbonyl supply, respectively.

—Chen et al.

Chen et al.

For many years, researchers have recognized {that a} metabolic pathway in some micro organism permits them to digest electrons and CO2 to supply acetate, a response pushed by the electrons. The pathway breaks CO2 molecules down into two totally different or “uneven” chemical teams: a carbonyl group (CO) or a methyl group (CH3). Enzymes on this response pathway allow the carbons in CO and CH3 to bond or “couple,” which then triggers one other catalytic response that produces acetate as the ultimate product.

Researchers within the subject of synthetic photosynthesis have needed to develop gadgets that mimic the pathway’s chemistry—known as uneven carbon-carbon coupling—however discovering artificial electrocatalysts that work as effectively as micro organism’s pure enzymatic catalysts has been difficult.

However we thought, if these microorganisms can do it, one ought to be capable of mimic their chemistry within the lab.Senior writer Peidong Yang, senior college scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Supplies Sciences Division and professor of chemistry and supplies science and engineering at UC Berkeley

Copper’s expertise for changing carbon into numerous helpful merchandise was first found within the Nineteen Seventies. Based mostly on these earlier research, Yang and his staff reasoned that synthetic photosynthesis gadgets geared up with a copper catalyst ought to be capable of convert CO2 and water into methyl and carbonyl teams, after which flip these merchandise into acetate.

For one experiment, Yang and staff designed a mannequin system with a copper floor; then, they uncovered the copper floor to liquid methyl iodide (CH3I) and CO fuel, and utilized {an electrical} bias to the system.

The researchers hypothesized that CO would persist with the copper floor, triggering the uneven coupling of CO and CH3 teams to supply acetate. Isotope-labelled CH3I used to be used within the experiments in an effort to observe the response pathway and closing merchandise.

Chemical analytical experiments carried out in Yang’s UC Berkeley lab revealed that copper’s pairing of carbonyl and methyl teams produced not solely acetate however different useful liquids, together with ethanol and acetone. The isotopic monitoring allowed the researchers to verify that the acetate was shaped via the mixture of the CO and CH3.

In one other experiment, the researchers synthesized an ultrathin materials from an answer of copper and silver nanoparticles, every one simply 7 nanometers in diameter. The researchers then designed one other mannequin system, this time layered with the nanoparticle skinny materials.

As anticipated, {the electrical} bias triggered a response, driving the silver nanoparticles to transform CO2 right into a carbonyl group, whereas the copper nanoparticles reworked CO2 right into a methyl group. Subsequent analyses within the Yang lab revealed that one other response (the coveted uneven coupling) between CO and CH3 synthesized liquid merchandise resembling acetate.

By electron microscopy experiments on the Molecular Foundry, the researchers discovered that the copper and silver nanoparticles are in shut contact with one another, forming tandem techniques, and that the copper nanoparticles served because the catalytic middle for the uneven coupling.

Yang mentioned that these copper-silver nanoparticles may doubtlessly be coupled with light-absorbing silicon nanowires sooner or later design of environment friendly synthetic photosynthesis techniques.

In 2015, Yang co-led a examine that demonstrated a synthetic photosynthesis system comprising semiconducting nanowires and micro organism utilizing the power in daylight to supply acetate from carbon dioxide and water. The discovering had vital implications for a rising subject by which researchers have spent many years searching for one of the best chemical reactions to supply excessive yields of liquid merchandise from CO2.

The brand new examine advances this earlier work by demonstrating an artificial electrocatalyst—the copper-silver nanoparticles—that clearly mimics what micro organism do to supply liquid merchandise from CO2, Yang mentioned.

We nonetheless have a variety of work to do to enhance it, however we’re excited by its potential to advance synthetic photosynthesis.

—Peidong Yang

Researchers from Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley participated within the examine. This work was supported by the DOE Workplace of Science. The Molecular Foundry is a DOE Workplace of Science consumer facility at Berkeley Lab.


  • Chen, C., Yu, S., Yang, Y. et al. (2022) “Exploration of the bio-analogous uneven C–C coupling mechanism in tandem CO2 electroreduction.” Nat Catal 5, 878–887 doi: 10.1038/s41929-022-00844-w



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