The Stanford team's approach has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions, Kanan said, because the CO2 required to make PEF could be obtained from fossil-fuel power plant emissions or other industrial sites.
Products made of PEF can also be recycled or converted back to atmospheric CO2 by incineration. Eventually, that CO2 will be taken up by grass, weeds and other plants, which can then be used to make more PEF.
"We believe that our chemistry can unlock the promise of PEF that has yet to be realized," Kanan said. "This is just the first step. We need to do a lot of work to see if it's viable at scale and to quantify the carbon footprint."
Kanan and colleagues have also begun to apply their new chemistry to the production of renewable fuels and other compounds from hydrogen and CO2. "That's the most exciting new application that we're working on now," he said.
The other Stanford coauthors of the Nature study are graduate student Graham Dick and former postdoctoral scholar Tatsuhiko Yoshino, now at Hokkaido University in Japan.
Aanindeeta Banerjee, Graham R. Dick, Tatsuhiko Yoshino und Matthew W. Kanan, Carbon dioxide utilization via carbonate-promoted C–H carboxylation
, Nature 531 (2016) 215-219, doi: 10.1038/nature17185