Researchers build generator absorbing CO2 to make electricity

“This technology goes further than being carbon neutral – it consumes CO2 as it generates energy.”

That is how Dr Zhuyuan Wang describes the generator that the University of Queensland researchers have built that absorbs carbon dioxide to make electricity.

Dr Wang from the university’s Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation says the small, proof-of-concept nanogenerator is carbon negative because it consumes the greenhouse gas.

The nanogenerator is made of two components – a polyamine gel that is already used by industry to absorb CO2 and a skeleton a few atoms thick of boron nitrate that generates positive and negative ions.

As Dr Wang explains, this technology goes beyond just being carbon neutral – “it consumes CO2 as it generates energy”.

He says researchers have worked out how to make the positive ions much larger than the negative ions and as the different sizes move at different speeds, they generate a diffusion current which can be amplified into electricity to power light bulbs or any electronic device.

“In nature and in the human body, ion transportation is the most efficient energy conversion – more efficient than electron transportation which is used in the power network,” he explains.

The two components were embedded in a hydrogel which is 90% water, cut into 4-centimetre discs and small rectangles and then tested in a sealed box pumped full of CO2.

“When we saw electrical signals coming out, I was very excited but worried I’d made a mistake,” Dr Wang says.

“I double-checked everything, and it was working correctly so I started dreaming about changing the world using this technology. This technology goes further than being carbon neutral – it consumes CO2 as it generates energy.

At present we can harvest around 1% of the total energy carried intrinsically by gas CO2 but like other technologies, we will now work on improving efficiency and reducing cost.”

Director of the Dow Centre, Professor Xiwang Zhang, says following the success of the laboratory tests there are two potential applications for the nanogenerator in the future.

This includes making a slightly bigger device that is portable to generate electricity to power a mobile phone or a laptop computer using CO2 from the atmosphere. A second application on a much larger scale would integrate this technology with an industrial CO2 capture process to harvest electricity.

The development of the nanogenerator will continue through GETCO2, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Green Electrochemical Transformation of Carbon Dioxide which is led by UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering with Professor Zhang as Director.

Write to Adam Orlando at

Images: University of Queensland 
Author Image
Written By Adam Orlando Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.