London, April 25 : Scientists have made a technological breakthrough in the fight to cut greenhouse gases by developing a highly energy-efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into chemical compounds known as cyclic carbonates.
Cyclic carbonates are widely used in the manufacture of products including solvents, paint-strippers, biodegradable packaging, as well as having applications in the chemical industry.
They also have potential for use 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 technique by which CO2 is converted into cyclic carbonates relies upon 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.
Now, a team of scientists from the Newcastle University has succeeded in developing an exceptionally active catalyst, derived from aluminium, 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 Michael North, professor of organic chemistry, Newcastle University, 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.
Professor North believes that, once it is fully developed, the technology has the potential to utilise a significant amount of the UK's CO2 emissions every year.
In fact, his team has estimated that the new 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.
Professor North and his team are currently carrying out further lab-based work to optimise the efficiency of the technology, following which they plan to scale-up to a pilot plant.