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article imageTechnological Breakthrough in Greenhouse Gas Battle

By Bob Ewing     Apr 24, 2008 in Science
Scientists at Newcastle University have pioneered breakthrough technology in the fight to cut greenhouse gases- team developed a highly energy-efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemical compounds known as cyclic carbonates.
Michael North, Professor of Organic Chemistry, at Newcastle University led a team that has pioneered breakthrough technology in the fight to cut greenhouse gases.
The team developed a highly energy-efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemical compounds known as cyclic carbonates.
The press release says that the researchers estimate that the technology has the potential to use up to 48 million tonnes of waste CO2 per year, reducing the UK's emissions by about four per cent.
The production of products such as solvents, paint-strippers, biodegradable packaging and applications in the chemical industry make wide use of cyclic carbonates. It may also be possible to use cyclic carbonates in the manufacture of a new class of efficient anti-knocking agents in petrol. Anti-knocking agents make petrol burn better, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.
The conversion technique requires the use of a catalyst to force a chemical reaction between CO2 and an epoxide, converting waste CO2 into this cyclic carbonate, a chemical for which there is significant commercial demand.
The reaction between CO2 and epoxides is well known, but previously this reaction required a lot of energy, needing high temperatures and high pressures to work successfully. The current process also requires the use of ultra-pure CO2, which is costly to produce.
The researchers have succeeded in developing an exceptionally active catalyst which is derived from aluminum and which can drive the reaction necessary to turn waste carbon dioxide into cyclic carbonates at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, vastly reducing the energy input required.
Professor North said: 'One of the main scientific challenges facing the human race in the 21st century is controlling global warming that results from increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
'One solution to this problem, currently being given serious consideration, is carbon capture and storage, which involves concentrating and compressing CO2 and then storing it,' he said. 'However, long-term storage remains to be demonstrated'.
Alternative solutions for converting CO2 emissions into a useful product have, so far, required a process so energy intensive that they generate more CO2 than they consume.
'If our catalyst could be employed at the source of high-concentration CO2 production, for example in the exhaust stream of a fossil-fuel power station, we could take out the carbon dioxide, turn it into a commercially-valuable product and at the same time eliminate the need to store waste CO2', North said.
'To satisfy the current market for cyclic carbonates, we estimate that our technology could use up to 18 million tonnes of waste CO2 per year, and a further 30 million tonnes if it is used as an anti-knocking agent.
'Using 48 million tonnes of waste CO2 would account for about four per cent* of the UK's CO2 emissions, which is a pretty good contribution from one technology,' commented Professor North.
The technique has been proven to work successfully in the lab. Professor North and his team are currently carrying out further lab-based work to optimize the efficiency of the technology, following which they plan to scale-up to a pilot plant.
More about Greenhouse Gas, Carbon dioxide, Waste
 
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