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Converting Carbon: A Climate Change Solution?

Dec 30, 2014 05:41 PM EST

You know all that excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that everyone is worried about? A team of researchers has recently discovered how to convert it into something a little less harmful: an organic compound called oxalate.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, which details the discovery of a cyclic copper complex that converts carbon dioxide to oxalate in a relatively straightforward reaction.

"The particular chemistry we have discovered is more interesting than most of the things we have done, because everyone wants to solve this carbon dioxide problem. This is just one step to solving the puzzle," Andrew Maverick, a researcher and acting associate dean in the Louisiana State University's College of Science, said in a statement.

He explained that the three-step reaction sequence developed in this study is extremely encouraging because it can be performed in relatively mild conditions, reducing costs and complications of the process. It also uses simple components, such as vitamin C, to facilitate the reaction.

"Carbon dioxide (CO2) does not want to react with just any compound," Maverick added. "Even highly energetic molecules often do not react with CO2. So, it is important to search for compounds like our copper complex, which will convert CO2 into something with a little more stored energy."

The result essentially plucks CO2 from the air and fixes it into what could be described as an "oxilate sandwich," with two copper atoms trapping/bridging the converted oxalate ion. The new organic compound, which is also naturally found in some foods, plays no role in the climate change-driving "greenhouse effect" that raw CO2 does.

However, while that all sounds very impressive, the researchers are quick to point out that they are a long way from using this reaction in a way that could take a chunk out of our carbon emissions.

"Our compound takes four to five days to react," Maverick said. "This is much too slow for anything that is of practical use."

However, that hasn't stopped the researchers from pressing on, looking for ways to expedite the effect.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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