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Carbon gets recycled as paint stripper, petrol

carbon.jpgIf you’ve already turned your excess carbon into a new CD library and you’ve still got a bit left over, Greenbang suggests you get your pet scientist to turn it into a new diamond. If you’ve still got a bit spare, you might want to reduce your footprint – or ask Newcastle Uni what to do with it.

A team from the University, headed up by Michael North, Professor of Organic Chemistry, has whipped up a way of turning all that unloved carbon into cyclic carbonates.

Greenbang will assume that everyone knows what cyclic carbonates are, so no need to recap. Oh alright then, for the bloke in the back with his hand up: cyclic carbonates are used in the manufacture of stuff including solvents, paint-strippers, biodegradable packaging, as well as having applications in the chemical industry, according to Newcastle.

They can also be used as an additive to make fuel burn better. Presumably, the carbon from the fuel is then used to make cyclic carbonates, which are added to petrol, over and over again, like a crazy petrol MC Escher painting.

According to North, there’s a 48 million ton market for cyclic carbonates – that’s the equivalent of four percent of the UK’s carbon production.

Here’s how it all works, according to the Uni:

The conversion technique 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.

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.[….]

Professor 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.

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