Breakthrough in battle to curb greenhouse gases

April 27th, 2008 - 3:30 pm ICT by admin  

London, April 27 (IANS) A team of scientists has developed a highly energy-efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide into chemical compounds, marking a breakthrough in the fight to cut greenhouse gases. The team from Newcastle University estimates that the technology has the potential to use up to 48 million tonnes of waste carbon dioxide per year, reducing Britain’s emissions by about four percent, ScienceDaily reported.

The method developed by the team led by Michael North, a professor of organic chemistry, converts waste carbon dioxide into cyclic carbonates.

Cyclic carbonates are widely used in the manufacture of products including solvents, paint-strippers, bio-degradable packaging as well as having applications in the chemical industry.

Cyclic carbonates also have the 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 carbon dioxide emissions.

The conversion technique relies upon the use of a catalyst to force a chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and an epoxide, converting waste carbon dioxide into this cyclic carbonate, a chemical for which there is significant commercial demand.

The reaction between carbon dioxide and epoxide 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 carbon dioxide, which is costly to produce.

The Newcastle team 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.

To date, alternative solutions for converting carbon dioxide emissions into a useful product required a process so energy intensive that they generate more carbon dioxide than they consume.

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 carbon dioxide 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 carbon dioxide,” he said.

“To satisfy the current market for cyclic carbonates, we estimate that our technology could use up to 18 million tonnes of waste carbon dioxide per year, and a further 30 million tonnes if it is used as an anti-knocking agent,” he added.

Findings of the research have been published in the latest issue of the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry.

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