The team designed a liquid metal that acts as a catalyst and quickly conducts electricity – which is used to capture CO2 from the atmosphere – in addition to presenting a special chemical coating that converts the gas. The carbon dioxide is then placed in a beaker filled with an electrolytic liquid and a small amount of the liquid metal. This turns CO2 into small solid carbon flakes that can eventually be compressed into coal, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications.
Eventually, the goal will be to return the coal to the depths of the ground, essentially reversing the carbon missions.
RMIT researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke said: "Although we can not literally go back in time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and bury it back on the ground is like rewinding the emissions clock.
"So far CO2 has only been converted to solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially infeasible.
"Using liquid metals as catalysts, we have shown that it is possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature in a process that is efficient and scalable.
"While more research needs to be done, it's a crucial first step in delivering solid carbon storage."
Lead author Dr Dorna Esrafilzadeh, an associate researcher at RMIT's School of Engineering, added: "One side benefit of the process is that carbon may contain electric charge, becoming a supercapacitor, and can be used as a component in future vehicles ".
"The process also produces synthetic fuel as a byproduct, which may also have industrial applications."