Silver, phosphorus key to producing carbon-neutral fuel

Silver-coloured Leicester’s World Tree sculpture. (Image by Mat Fascione,

Researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina are using silver diphosphide (AgP2) as a novel catalyst that takes carbon dioxide pollution from manufacturing plants and transforms it into a material called syngas, from which the liquid fuel used in manufacturing is made.

The new catalyst allows the conversion of carbon dioxide into fuel with minimal energy loss compared to the current state-of-the-art process

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists explained that after trying different substances, they concluded that silver was the best catalyst. Later on, they decided to add phosphorus because it removes electron density from the silver, making the process more controllable and reducing energy waste.

Basically, the new chemical process does in the lab what trees do in nature—it converts carbon dioxide into usable chemicals or fuels.

“This catalyst makes the process much more efficient,” Scott Geyer, corresponding author of the study, said in a media statement. “Silver diphosphide is the key that makes all the other parts work. It reduces energy loss in the process by a factor of three.”

In the future, Geyer sees being able to power this process with solar energy, directly converting sunlight into fuel. The more efficient the chemical conversion process becomes, the more likely solar energy—instead of coal or other non-renewable energy sources—can be used to make fuel.