Pollution to Solution: Rice University Reactor Studies aid in Climatic and Biochemical Research

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In 2019, a group of researchers from Rice University created a reactor capable of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide into a usable energy source: formic acid. Formic acid fuel-cell energy is a better long-term alternative than utilizing hydrogen fuel-cell energy—as researchers indicate hydrogen gas is harder to get into a condensed state. Head researcher Haotian Wang was able to create this reactor by eliminating a need for salts in the solution. Typically, salts have been used for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, but Wang suggested to instead use a solid electrolyte that degrades more slowly. Not only was this created catalyst slower in degradation, it was also more stable (held form during the reaction). Success rate for this reactor depended on the speed at which the reaction took place; higher speeds gained better results, and researchers achieved nearly a 50% collection of formic acid at the end of the trials.

While producing a useful and strong biochemical fuel, the lab’s research primarily aimed to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Global warming is a threat to our planet and the multitude of species that inhabit it. A continual increase in greenhouse gasses would only accelerate the effects of global climate change. The research being done at Rice University holds tremendous value toward conservation efforts, because by lowering greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the resulting stress effects these gasses hold on species could lessen overtime. A decreased presence of external stressors on a population can significantly decrease an organism’s vulnerability to extinction. While this reactor is still a prototype in the lab,  researchers feel they could scale their methods to work at industry level, which would allow this method of lowering greenhouse gasses to extend to international use. Ensuring high carbon-emitting, industrialized countries have access to this technology holds potential to make climate conservation on the multinational level much more attainable. Combating climate change is one of the most important issues in ensuring the conservation of our planet’s species, and while more testing and tinkering with the reactor is needed, this process is a step in righting the damage done.

Wang and his team were published in Nature Communications in 2020. If you would like to read the paper released, you can find it here.

Since publishing this paper, the Wang Lab has received many awards for their continued research into the use of reactors to isolate compounds from the environment. More recently, scientists in the Wang Lab have discovered a more efficient way of synthesizing Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) from environmental factors using a boron-attached carbon molecule as fuel, or a catalyst, for the collection pathway. Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing chemical commonly used in scientific research and medicinal practices. In prior years to now, synthesizing hydrogen peroxide was difficult to achieve due to the the reactive favorability of the molecules involved to convert to water. The pathway perfected by the Wang Lab research team allows for more stabile accumulation process of hydrogen peroxide molecules, well as higher ratios of molecule collected.

Haotian Wang and the researchers in his lab continue their efforts in molecular synthesis as it related to environmental cleanup, and are making headlines among environmental and biochemists worldwide. If you would like to keep up with the efforts from the research team, you can follow the University’s update page here

Wang Lab Researchers Synthesizing H2O2

Stay Adventurous,


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