Jordi Arbiol Cobos

Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia

Decarbonization of our economy and carbon valorisation (through conversion of CO2 into usable chemicals or fuels) are key strategies to address the current alarming climate change emergency and limit our footprint on the planet. In this context, researchers are seeking chemical processes that can facilitate and enhance the conversion of CO2 into methane (CH4), which is a green fuel. Catalysts designed to speed up such reactions are therefore extremely important.

Scientists have recently realised that they must thoroughly observe how catalysts and other agents evolve during the chemical reaction in order to clearly understand the role played by each of them and take advantage of it –in other words, a before-and-after comparison does not give enough information.

This is particularly relevant in cases in which –as it has been observed in situ —not only the catalyst itself but also support materials, used for example to stabilise small nanoparticles, intervene in the reaction.

A groundbreaking study lead by researchers from the EMAT (University of Antwerp, Belgium), the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2, Barcelona) and the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC, Barcelona) pioneers the use of innovative in situ and operando characterization techniques to observe at the nanoscale the changes taking place on a complex catalyst during a chemical reaction (CO2 hydrogenation) that is key to carbon valorisation. The work, recently published in the journal Advanced Materials, was coordinated by Prof. Sara Bals, from the University of Antwerp and Director of EMAT, and by ICREA Prof. Jordi Arbiol, leader of the Advanced Electron Nanoscopy Group at the ICN2.