Captured carbon dioxide could soon be used in the production
of biodegradable plastic bags, paint stripper, solvents, batteries,
anti-knocking agents for petrol and countless other products,
according to scientists at Newcastle University - potentially
cutting global emissions by 24m tonnes per year.
The team of researchers, led by Professor of organic chemistry
Michael North, claims to have developed a catalyst that greatly
increases the energy efficiency of converting waste carbon
dioxide into chemical compounds - known as cyclic carbonates
- which are widely used in the manufacture of chemical products,
solvents and biodegradable packaging.
"The process of converting CO2
into cyclic carbonates is well established, but it requires
very pure CO2, temperatures in excess
of 100 degrees and high pressure levels to make it work -
all of which means you generate more carbon through the process
than you capture at the end" - he explained. "We
have developed a catalyst that allows the process to take
place at room temperature and normal air pressure using carbon
captured from a standard source."
According to lab tests, the result is a huge net reduction
in carbon emissions that would potentially allow chemical
firms to lock CO2 into useful products.
"The projected demand for cyclic carbonates is 48m tonnes
per year and 50 per cent of them are made up from CO2
- so, there is the potential to capture about 24m tonnes of
CO2 a year for re-use in this way"
- said North.
He added that, in the event that the resulting cyclic carbonates
are used to make biodegradable plastics, the CO2
conversion process could form part of a 'closed loop'
system - albeit one with considerable leakage.
"If you use the cyclic carbonates to make biodegradable
bags, the CO2 will leak back into the
atmosphere as they break down" - he explained. "But
if, as is increasingly the case, they were to go into an incinerator
to generate energy, you could recapture much of the CO2
emissions and start the whole process again. "
The calcium carbonates could also be used in the production
of dimethyl carbonate, which can be used as an anti-knocking
agent for improving the fuel efficiency of petrol. "Using
the end-product to help burn petrol might not sound green"
- admitted North. "But in oxygenating the fuel it can
significantly improve fuel efficiency."
The Newcastle University team now plan to begin work on a
pilot project for the technology and North expressed hope
that a commercial-scale demonstration plant could be up and
running within five years.
The breakthrough is the latest in a series of projects designed
to turn captured CO2 into a commercially
viable product. Earlier this year, UK startup - Carbon
8 Systems - outlined plans for using captured CO2
to make building aggregate, while industrial giant Bayer
is currently working on a project to turn carbon emissions
into polycarbonate plastics used in the production of CDs,
DVDs, lenses and bottles.
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