Left Menu
Development News Edition

AI helps researchers up-cycle waste carbon

In a breakthrough study, researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate progress in transforming waste carbon into a commercially valuable product with record efficiency.

ANI | Washington DC | Updated: 13-05-2020 21:27 IST | Created: 13-05-2020 21:27 IST
AI helps researchers up-cycle waste carbon
Representative image. Image Credit: ANI

In a breakthrough study, researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate progress in transforming waste carbon into a commercially valuable product with record efficiency. The study led by researchers at the University of Toronto Engineering and Carnegie Mellon University was published in the journal Nature. Researchers leveraged AI to speed up the search for the key material in a new catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into ethylene -- a chemical precursor to a wide range of products, from plastics to dish detergent.

The resulting electrocatalyst is the most efficient in its class. If run using wind or solar power, the system also provides an efficient way to store electricity from these renewable but intermittent sources. "Using clean electricity to convert CO2 into ethylene, which has a USD 60 billion global markets, can improve the economics of both carbon capture and clean energy storage," says Professor Ted Sargent,

Sargent and his team have already developed a number of world-leading catalysts to reduce the energy cost of the reaction that converts CO2 into ethylene and other carbon-based molecules. But even better ones may be out there, and with millions of potential material combinations to choose from, testing them all would be unacceptably time-consuming. The team showed that machine learning can accelerate the search. Using computer models and theoretical data, algorithms can toss out the worst options and point the way toward more promising candidates.

Using AI to search for clean energy materials was advanced at a 2017 workshop organized by Sargent in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). The idea was further elaborated in a Nature commentary article published later that year. Professor Zachary Ulissi of Carnegie Mellon University was one of the invited researchers at the original workshop. His group specializes in computer modelling of nanomaterials.

"With other chemical reactions, we have large and well-established datasets listing the potential catalyst materials and their properties," says Ulissi. "With CO2-to-ethylene conversion, we don't have that, so we can't use brute force to model everything. Our group has spent a lot of time thinking about creative ways to find the most interesting materials."

The algorithms created by Ulissi and his team use a combination of machine learning models and active learning strategies to broadly predict what kinds of products a given catalyst is likely to produce, even without detailed modelling of the material itself. They applied these algorithms for CO2 reduction to screen over 240 different materials, discovering 4 promising candidates that were predicted to have desirable properties over a very wide range of compositions and surface structures.

In the new paper, the co-authors describe their best-performing catalyst material, an alloy of copper and aluminium. After the two metals were bonded at a high temperature, some of the aluminium was then etched away, resulting in a nanoscale porous structure that Sargent describes as "fluffy." The new catalyst was then tested in a device called an electrolyzer, where the "faradaic efficiency" -- the proportion of electrical current that goes into making the desired product -- was measured at 80%, a new record for this reaction.

Sargent says the energy cost will need to be lowered still further if the system is to produce ethylene that is cost-competitive with that derived from fossil fuels. Future research will focus on reducing the overall voltage required for the reaction, as well as further reducing the proportion of side products, which are costly to separate. The new catalyst is the first one for CO2-to-ethylene conversion to have been designed in part through the use of AI. It is also the first experimental demonstration of the active learning approaches Ulissi has been developing. Its strong performance validates the effectiveness of this strategy and bodes well for future collaborations of this nature.

"There are many ways that copper and aluminum can arrange themselves, but what the computations shows is that almost all of them were predicted to be beneficial in some way," says Sargent. "So instead of trying different materials when our first experiments didn't work out, we persisted, because we knew there was something worth investing in." (ANI)


TRENDING

OPINION / BLOG / INTERVIEW

New farm bills in India: Focusing on farms or farmers?

... ...

Kenya’s COVID-19 response: Chaos amid lack of information

Confusing numbers and scanty information on how effective curfews and lockdowns have been in breaking transmission have amplified coordination and planning challenges in Kenyas response to COVID-19. Without accurate data, it is impossible t...

Farkhad Akhmedov: Calculating the price of impunity from the law

In insistences such as the battle over the Luna, Akhmedov has resorted to extreme legal machinations to subvert the High Courts decision and keep his assets from being seized. ...

Guinea’s elections hearken back to the autocracy and violence of its past

... ...

Videos

Latest News

In emails, Sacklers fret over wealth, opioid business

Soon after a Purdue Pharma LP affiliate pleaded guilty to misbranding its addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin in 2007, the companys Sackler family owners fretted about possible threats to their wealth. On May 17, 2007, Jonathan Sackler, w...

U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran and Russia have tried to interfere in 2020 election

U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on Wednesday that Russia and Iran have both tried to interfere with the 2020 presidential election. We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by I...

Pope says same-sex couples should be covered by civil union laws

Pope Francis has said that same-sex couples should be protected by civil union laws in the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people, prompting praise from liberals and calls for urgent clarification from conservatives. He m...

Reuters World News Summary

Following is a summary of current world news briefs. U.S. on brink of rampant coronavirus spread, Europe hospitals strainedNearly two-thirds of U.S. states were in a danger zone of coronavirus spread and six, including election battleground...

Give Feedback