World-first generator turns greenhouse gas into power

Charging a smartphone could one day be good for the planet after Australian researchers created a generator capable of using greenhouse gas to produce electricity. 

The University of Queensland discovery, outlined in the journal Nature Communications, uses ions of different sizes to create electricity while removing carbon dioxide from the air. 

Scientists behind the development say it might help redeem the gas's bad reputation and the technology could be expanded in future to charge devices such as smartphones and laptops in a way that would benefit the environment. 

UQ research officer Dr Zhuyuan Wang, from the Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation, told AAP he had been working on the project for three years but was surprised to see the nanogenerator consuming carbon dioxide during tests.

"When we saw electrical signals coming out, I was very excited but worried I'd made a mistake," he said. 

"I double-checked everything and it was working correctly so I started dreaming about changing the world using this technology."

The generator creates positive and negative ions of different sizes to create electricity in a process called ion transport.

To test whether it consumed greenhouse gases, Dr Wang said the team placed the equipment "in a sealed box and we pumped the gas" inside.

Generators used in the research project were small - one is just 4cm wide and another is 6cm long - but Professor Xiwang Zhang said the equipment could be enlarged and made more powerful for future, practical applications.

"We could make a slightly bigger device that is portable to generate electricity to power a mobile phone or a laptop computer using CO2 from the atmosphere," he said. 

"I think this hasn't been done before and this shows great potential."

Prof Zhang said researchers could also seek to expand the technology for use on an industrial scale, which could harvest more carbon dioxide and potentially improve the reputation of the maligned gas.

"Until now, CO2 has been seen as a problem to be solved but it can be a resource for the future," he said.

"We want to realise the value in a problematic greenhouse gas to change the perception."

Prof Zhang said researchers would continue to refine the technology through the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Green Electrochemical Transformation of Carbon Dioxide. 

The UQ project is not the first to investigate how to use carbon dioxide to generate a source of energy, however, with researchers at MIT and Harvard University in 2023 announcing they had developed a process to convert the gas into a fuel called formate that could be used in a similar way to hydrogen.

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store