Hope for large-scale carbon capture was accidentally found by scientists at the Oak Rodge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The process was stumbled across when the researchers set out to find a chemical reaction that could make convert the greenhouse gas blamed on global warming into a fuel.

They had in mind a series of reactions, but as it turned out, the first step in their process appears to have struck pay dirt – ethanol which can be burned in engines.

A fair degree of sophistication was employed, however, and this involved copper and carbon combined and arranged into nanospikes on a silicon surface.

This nanotechnology lets a room-temperature reaction take place with very few contaminants, and it can be precisely controlled.

“By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” said Oak Ridge’s Adam Rondinone.

This process is advantageous as it uses common materials, and room-temperatures activation means the reaction can be started and stopped easily at a power generation plant.

As they further refine it, researchers say the technology could be switched on in a power generation lull, and could smooth out energy production fluctuations.

“A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” said Rondinone. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”

If further improvements can be made, Popular Science reports it may see wide scale use in “the near future.”

More info can be seen in Oak Ridge’s website, a PopSci in depth interview, and Oak Ridge’s findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect.