AMRDEC Scientist Helps Advance Research for Alternative Energy

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April 24, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: April 24 on

A U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center senior research scientist helped develop tiny nanoparticles that convert carbon dioxide into methane using only ultraviolent light as an energy source.

Dr. Henry Everitt has been working with the chemistry department at Duke University to explore new ways light can be used to add energy to nanoscale bits of metal. 

Effectively, plasmonic metal nanoparticles act like little antennas that absorb visible or ultraviolet light very efficiently and can do a number of things like generate strong electric fields.  For the last few years there has been a recognition that this property might be applied to catalysis.

Scientists have sought an efficient, light-driven catalyst to power this light-using process, which could help the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by converting it to methane. Methane is a building block for many types of fuels.

By heating nanoparticles to 300 degrees Celsius, the Duke lab observed that the reaction generates an equal mix of methane and carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. When the heat was turned off and particles were illuminated with a high-powered ultraviolent LED lamp, the carbon dioxide and hydrogen reacted at room temperature, almost exclusively producing methane.

This discovery will really advance the understanding of catalysis.

The team plans to test whether its light-powered technique might drive other reactions that are currently catalyzed with heated rhodium metal. They hope to develop a version of the catalyst that is powered by sunlight, creating solar-powered reaction that could be integrated into renewable energy systems.