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Research Leads to Groundbreaking Green Propane Production Method

Researchers develop new device that can convert carbon dioxide into propane in a way that is economically viable

by Illinois Institute of Technology
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CHICAGO, IL — A paper recently published in Nature Energy based on pioneering research done at Illinois Institute of Technology reveals a promising breakthrough in green energy: an electrolyzer device capable of converting carbon dioxide into propane in a manner that is both scalable and economically viable.

As the United States races toward its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, innovative methods to reduce the significant carbon dioxide emissions from electric power and industrial sectors are critical. Mohammad Asadi, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Illinois Tech, spearheaded this groundbreaking research. 

“Making renewable chemical manufacturing is really important,” says Asadi. “It’s the best way to close the carbon cycle without losing the chemicals we currently use daily.”

What sets Asadi’s electrolyzer apart is its unique catalytic system. It uses inexpensive, readily available materials to produce tri-carbon molecules—fundamental building blocks for fuels like propane, which is used for purposes ranging from home heating to aviation.

To ensure a deep understanding of the catalyst’s operations, the team employed a combination of experimental and computational methods. This rigorous approach illuminated the crucial elements influencing the catalyst’s reaction activity, selectivity, and stability.

A distinctive feature of this technology, lending to its commercial viability, is the implementation of a flow electrolyzer. This design permits continuous propane production, sidestepping the pitfalls of the more conventional batch processing methods.

“Designing and engineering this laboratory-scale flow electrolyzer prototype has demonstrated Illinois Tech’s commitment to creating innovative technologies. Optimizing and scaling up this prototype will be an important step toward producing a sustainable, economically viable, and energy-efficient carbon capture and utilization process,” says Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Program Director Jack Lewnard.

This innovation is not Asadi’s first venture into sustainable energy. He previously adapted a version of this catalyst to produce ethanol by harnessing carbon dioxide from industrial waste gas. Recognizing the potential of the green propane technology, Asadi has collaborated with global propane distributor SHV Energy to further scale and disseminate the system. 

“This is an exciting development, which opens up a new e-fuel pathway to on-purpose propane production for the benefit of global users of this essential fuel,” says Keith Simons, head of research and development for sustainable fuels at SHV Energy.

Illinois Tech Duchossois Leadership Professor and professor of physics Carlo Segre, University of Pennsylvania professor of materials science and engineering Andrew Rappe, and University of Illinois chicago professor Reza Shahbazian-Yassar contributed to this work. Mohammadreza Esmaeilirad (PhD CHE ’22) was a lead author on the paper.

- This press release was originally published on the Illinois Institute of Technology website