GETCO2 Nanogenerator turns CO2 into Sustainable Power

GETCO2 researchers have built a nanogenerator that absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) to make electricity.

Dr Zhuyuan Wang from GETCO2 says the small, proof-of-concept nanogenerator is carbon negative because it consumes the greenhouse gas.

“This 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. We’ve worked out how to make the positive ions much larger than the negative ions and because 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”, Dr Wang said.

“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.”

The two components were embedded in a hydrogel which is 90 per cent 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. 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,” Dr Wang said.

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

See Dr Zhuyuan Wang explain how the nanogenerator works in this video.


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

“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,” Professor Zhang said.

“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 with Professor Zhang as Director.

“We want to realise the value in a problematic greenhouse gas and to change the perception of CO2. Until now CO2 has been seen as a problem to be solved but it can be a resource for the future,” Professor Zhang said.

The research has been published in Nature Communications.

Authors: Zhuyuan WangTing HuMike TebyetekerwaXiangkang ZengFan DuYuan KangXuefeng LiHao ZhangHuanting Wang & Xiwang Zhang

Screenshot of the nanogenerator animation

This article is based on a UQ Communications media release published on 18 April 2024.