Scientists Apply New Catalyst to CO2 Conversion

A Newcastle University team, led by Michael North, professor of organic chemistry, has developed a highly efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemical compounds known as cyclic carbonates.

The team estimates that the technology has the potential to use up to 48 million tons of waste CO2 per year, reducing the United Kingdom's emissions by about 4 percent.

Cyclic carbonates are widely used in the manufacture of products including solvents, paint-strippers, biodegradable packaging, as well as chemical applications. Cyclic carbonates also have potential for use in making a new class of efficient anti-knocking agents in gasoline.

The conversion technique relies on 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 one which, until now, 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 Newcastle team developed an exceptionally active catalyst, derived from aluminium, that can drive the reaction necessary to turn waste CO2 into cyclic carbonates at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, vastly reducing the energy input required.

North compares the process developed by his team to that of a catalytic converter fitted to a car. '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', he said.

North and his team are carrying out further lab-based work to optimize the efficiency of the technology, following which they plan to scale-up to a pilot plant.

"Synthesis of cyclic carbonates from atmospheric pressure carbon dioxide using exceptionally active aluminium(salen) complexes as catalysts" has been published in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry.

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