Copper-indium oxide: A faster and cooler way to reduce our carbon footprint

January 13, 2021

With ever-worsening climate change, there is a growing need for technologies that can capture and use up the atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) and reduce our carbon footprint. Within the realm of renewable energy, CO2-based e-fuels have emerged as a promising technology that attempts to convert atmospheric CO2 into clean fuels. The process involves production of synthetic gas or syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO)). With the help of the reverse water-gas shift (RWGS) reaction, CO2 is broken down into the CO necessary for syngas. While promising in its conversion efficiency, the RWGS reaction requires incredibly high temperatures (>700°C) to proceed, while also generating unwanted byproducts.

To tackle these problems, scientists developed a modified chemical-looping version of the RWGS reaction that converts CO2 to CO in a two-step method. First, a metal oxide, used as an oxygen storage material, is reduced by hydrogen. Subsequently, it is re-oxidized by CO2, yielding CO. This method is free of undesirable byproducts, makes gas separation simpler, and can be made feasible at lower temperatures depending on the oxide chosen. Consequently, scientists have been looking for oxide materials that exhibit high oxidation-reduction rates without requiring high temperatures.

In a recent Chemical Science, scientists from Waseda University and ENEOS Corporation in Japan have revealed that a novel indium oxide modified with copper (Cu--In2O3) exhibits a record-breaking CO2 conversion rate of 10 mmolh-1g-1 at relatively modest temperatures (400-500°C), making it a frontrunner among oxygen storage materials required for low-temperature CO2 conversion. To better understand this behavior, the team investigated the structural properties of Cu-In oxide along with the kinetics involved in the chemical-looping RWGS reaction.

The scientists carried out X-ray-based analyses and found that the sample initially contained a parent material, Cu2In2O5, which was first reduced by hydrogen to form a Cu-In alloy and indium oxide (In2O3) and then oxidized by CO2 to yield Cu--In2O3 and CO. X-ray data further revealed that it underwent oxidation and reduction during the reaction, providing the key clue to scientists. "The X-ray measurements made it clear that the chemically looped RWGS reaction is based on the reduction and oxidation of Indium which leads to the formation and oxidation of the Cu-In alloy," explains Professor Yasushi Sekine of Waseda University, who led the study.

The kinetics investigations provided further insights into the reaction. The reduction step revealed that Cu was responsible for the reduction of indium oxide at low temperatures, while the oxidation step showed that the Cu-In alloy surface preserved a highly reduced state while its bulk got oxidized. This allowed the oxidation to happen twice as quickly as that of other oxides. The team attributed this peculiar oxidation behavior to a rapid migration of negatively charged oxygen ions from the Cu-In alloy surface to its bulk, which assisted in the preferential bulk oxidation.

The results have, quite expectedly, excited scientists about the future prospects of copper-indium oxides. "Given the current situation with carbon emission and global warming, a high-performance carbon dioxide conversion process is greatly desired. Although the chemically looped RWGS reaction works well with many oxide materials, our novel Cu-In-oxide here shows a remarkably higher performance than any of them. We hope that this will contribute significantly to reducing our carbon footprint and driving humankind towards a more sustainable future", concludes Sekine.

Authors: Jun-Ichiro Makiura (1), Takuma Higo (1), Yutaro Kurosawa (1), Kota Murakami (1), Shuhei Ogo (1), Hideaki Tsuneki (1), Yasushi Hashimoto (1), Yasushi Sato (2), and Yasushi Sekine (1)

Title of original paper: Fast oxygen ion migration in Cu--In--oxide bulk and its utilization for effective CO2 conversion at lower temperature

Journal: Chemical Science

DOI: 10.1039/d0sc05340f


(1) Department of Applied Chemistry, Waseda University


About Waseda University

Located in the heart of Tokyo, Waseda University is a leading private research university that has long been dedicated to academic excellence, innovative research, and civic engagement at both the local and global levels since 1882. The University ranks number one in Japan in international activities, including the number of international students, with the broadest range of degree programs fully taught in English. To learn more about Waseda University, visit

Waseda University

Related Hydrogen Articles from Brightsurf:

Solar hydrogen: let's consider the stability of photoelectrodes
As part of an international collaboration, a team at the HZB has examined the corrosion processes of high-quality BiVO4 photoelectrodes using different state-of-the-art characterisation methods.

Hydrogen vehicles might soon become the global norm
Roughly one billion cars and trucks zoom about the world's roadways.

Hydrogen economy with mass production of high-purity hydrogen from ammonia
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has made an announcement about the technology to extract high-purity hydrogen from ammonia and generate electric power in conjunction with a fuel cell developed by a team led by Young Suk Jo and Chang Won Yoon from the Center for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research.

Superconductivity: It's hydrogen's fault
Last summer, it was discovered that there are promising superconductors in a special class of materials, the so-called nickelates.

Hydrogen energy at the root of life
A team of international researchers in Germany, France and Japan is making progress on answering the question of the origin of life.

Hydrogen alarm for remote hydrogen leak detection
Tomsk Polytechnic University jointly with the University of Chemistry and Technology of Prague proposed new sensors based on widely available optical fiber to ensure accurate detection of hydrogen molecules in the air.

Preparing for the hydrogen economy
In a world first, University of Sydney researchers have found evidence of how hydrogen causes embrittlement of steels.

Hydrogen boride nanosheets: A promising material for hydrogen carrier
Researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology, University of Tsukuba, and colleagues in Japan report a promising hydrogen carrier in the form of hydrogen boride nanosheets.

World's fastest hydrogen sensor could pave the way for clean hydrogen energy
Hydrogen is a clean and renewable energy carrier that can power vehicles, with water as the only emission.

Chemical hydrogen storage system
Hydrogen is a highly attractive, but also highly explosive energy carrier, which requires safe, lightweight and cheap storage as well as transportation systems.

Read More: Hydrogen News and Hydrogen Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to