Carbon Dioxide Activation and Utilization
As part of nature’s carbon cycle, photosynthesis converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbohydrates which provide cells with energy and the chemical building blocks needed to synthesize other compounds. Since the industrial revolution, humans have relied on fossil fuels to provide energy and the chemical building blocks needed for the manufacture of everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals. This reliance on fossil fuels has broken the balance of the global carbon cycle by concentrating carbon in the atmosphere. The development of alternative chemical processes that use carbon dioxide as a chemical building block would ease this imbalance. Not only would such processes decrease the reliance on petroleum raw materials, but they would also consume excess carbon dioxide by converting it to useful chemicals. This would provide an economically viable way to mitigate carbon dioxide emission by chemical industry, and could become an important facet of ultimately restoring balance to the global carbon cycle.
Carbon dioxide is an attractive alternative carbon starting material; however, its innate stability presents a major challenge, and only a handful of known chemical processes can make use of carbon dioxide as a raw material. Therefore, in order to effectively use carbon dioxide in chemical reactions, its chemical stability must be overcome. To do that, we need to "activate" carbon dioxide. This requires the use of a catalyst and my lab is focused on studying potential catalysts that contain the metals tungsten and molybdenum.
I recently discussed this research on WHYY's The Pulse. The interview is available to listen to here: https://whyy.org/segments/taking-co2-out-of-the-atmosphere-to-make-plastics/