‘World first’ plasma electrolyser project

5 April 2022

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen are embarking on a £250 000 research project that aims to achieve a world first by using a plasma electrolyser to convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons for energy use.

If successful, the method could enable the use of renewable energy for the efficient conversion of CO2 to hydrocarbons, while revolutionising approaches to decarbonising heavy industry – one of the key challenges in the energy transition.

The project - Electrocatalysis in non-thermal plasma for energy storage – is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).  It is one of ten projects just announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that are designed to support the development of ground-breaking ideas for new materials, devices, fuels and technologies in support of the UK’s ambition to achieve a net zero society by 2050.

Led by professor Angel Cuesta Ciscar from Edinburgh university’s School of Natural and Computing Sciences, and Dr Panagiotis Kechagiopoulos from the School of Engineering, the project will explore how carbon dioxide could be converted into hydrocarbons for energy use through plasma electrocatalysis.

They will aim to create an electrochemical reaction by applying a voltage between two electrodes in a weakly ionised gas, resulting in the reduction of CO2 and the oxidation of hydrogen.

This combination of plasma-catalysis and electrocatalysis could allow the use of renewable electricity generated by renewable sources to power a plasma electrolyser, in an entirely new process that would efficiently convert CO2 back to hydrocarbons, reducing CO2 emissions as part of a circular economy model.

The team’s aim is to build a prototype device that could be used for efficient energy storage, or to decarbonise important industrial processes that produce a large amounts of CO2 such as cement or steel production.

Professor Angel Cuesta Ciscar commented: “Despite the wide research interest in plasma-catalysis this approach has never been attempted, and our research will require technical and scientific breakthroughs to deliver its aims. While challenging, there is the exciting potential to develop a device that could play a crucial role in the creation of a circular fuel economy with a positive impact for the environment and for jobs in the energy sector.”

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