At the University of Toronto, Ted Sargent runs a test kitchen of types. Him and his colleagues develop recipes, measure and mix ingredients carefully, and then assess its outcome. The combination of ingredients mostly – if not always – turn out to be inedible.
Fortunately, they are not making food. Sargent’s team cooks with carbon dioxide. Their goal is to invent recipes to ‘upgrade’ greenhouse gases into more useful raw materials. Instead of releasing the pollutant into the air, or capturing it and sequestering it underground, factories and power plants of the future could use renewable energy sources to convert the carbon dioxide into materials that can be sold.
One promising recipe involves electrically zapping carbon dioxide with other reactants to change it into the six-atom molecule ethylene, which is composed of two carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms. It’s a raw material involved in the making of common plastics such as Ziploc bags.