So humankind is about to face the biggest challenge in its history. Over 90 % of all commercially available organic chemicals are sourced from crude oil. So what you may say who cares? Well? Organic chemicals are what we make: pharmaceuticals health care products, synthetic fibers, cosmetics, paints liquid crystal displays, flavors fragrances and a great many other products from now.
My lives would be much shorter and of much lower quality. Unfortunately, fossil fuels such as crude oil will not last forever. The latest figures from BP suggest that known reserves of oil will be exhausted.
In 50 years time, known, reserves of gas will last for 53 years, known reserves of coal for a hundred and thirty-four years now. The good news is these figures are almost certainly wrong because they’re based on a very simplistic analysis of the data, but they do serve to illustrate that we are using supplies of fossil fuels far faster than they can possibly be replenished, and our Rate of use is increasing, as the number of people on the planet increases and, as we all get wealthier.
Not only is our use of fossil fuels unsustainable. It’s, also resulting in ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So if we want a green and pleasant future, then it’s, essential that we wean the chemicals industry off its addiction to crude oil and on to sustainable feedstocks, a direct consequence of the fact that we live in a linear that we rely on Fossil fuels is that we live in a linear economy in which we take resources out of the ground, convert them into something that’s of use to us, then throw them away.
This is directly responsible for the two biggest challenges facing the planet: climate change and marine plastic pollution. We generate energy by taking fossil fuels out the ground, burning them and then dumping the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere where it causes climate change.
We make plastics from crude oil, which again we take out of the ground. We use many of those plastics only once then we throw them away into landfill from where they make their way through rivers to the oceans and coasts, marine plastic pollution.
In contrast, in a circular economy, there is no waste items are designed to be manufactured from sustainable feedstocks and to be not only used but repeatedly reused. When they can no longer be reused, they are designed to be repaired or remade at the end of their lives.
They can be recycled into a different, useful product and eventually they can be broken back down into the same building blocks from which they were made and then remade into either the same or a different item again.
So if we want to tackle major global challenges such as climate change, it is essential that we switch the world economy from a linear economy to a circular economy. And my research and my talk today is based on the idea that carbon dioxide itself can be an excellent feedstock for a future sustainable chemicals industry, and this would be an example of a circular economy.
Now there’s, no shortage of waste carbon dioxide. We generate vast quantities of it, but fossil fuels to generate energy. The chemicals industry is also a major producer of wets carbon dioxide, particularly during cement production, aluminium production and iron and steel manufacture.
And of course, we can get carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has now reached 410 parts per million, which corresponds to three thousand million million kilograms of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere freely available to anybody who wants it anywhere on the planet? No delivery charges, carbon dioxide is the ultimate egalitarian saw urban for a future chemicals industry.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached such a high level that it’s becoming critical, that we find something else to do with waste carbon dioxide, and there are three possibilities: carbon capture and storage involves taking waste carbon dioxide purifying It transporting it then dumping it underground and hoping like mad that it stays there.
It is a continuation of the linear economy that we live in and it treats carbon dioxide as waste. Carbon capture and storage is also an extremely expensive process that produced nothing of value. At the end of it, and therefore, whilst it may be good for the occult or the environment, it will always be bad for profit.
Now there is a variation on carbon capture and storage called enhanced oil recovery, in which the captured carbon dioxide is forced down a partially depleted oil, well to force more oil to come out of the well, of course, when the oil is eventually burnt, it produces even More Arbonne dioxide, which needs to be treated and disposed of so not surprisingly, enhanced oil recovery is very popular with oil companies, as it allows them to make more profit.
But it is bad for the environment and it is potentially a very dangerous pyramid scheme, because more carbon dioxide is generated, burning the oil than was pumped down the well in the first place. Fortunately, there is a third possibility with carbon capture and utilisation, and this treats carbon dioxide not as a waste but as a valuable resource.
It’s good for the environment. It’s, also good for profit, because we’re. Making a valuable saleable from the carbon dioxide and the carbon dioxide can be used to make chemicals or fuels that would otherwise have to be made from fossil fuels.
Now. One issue with carbon capture and utilisation is that there is a difference in scale between waste, carbon dioxide production and chemicals of production and in fact, only 5 % of all the waste carbon dioxide that we generate each year would be enough to make all of the Organic chemicals that we need in a year, so it looks like you can’t, make much of an impact on the carbon dioxide problem by making chemicals.
But of course, chemicals are not the only thing that we can make from carbon dioxide. We can also make fuels replacements for natural gas, for petrol, for diesel, for aviation fuel, which we would normally get from fossil fuels and that would consume the other 95 percent of the waste carbon dioxide produced in a given year and it’s.
Instructive to look at what happens at present in a petrochemical refinery, so about 70 % of crude oil is currently converted into transport. Fuels about 25 % is converted into non transport fuels and only between 3 and 4 percent of crude oil is used to make chemicals, and yet that 3 to 4 percent of the mass, which makes chemicals provides over 40 % of the profit for a petrochemical refinery.
If you think petrol is expensive, it’s, not because the coke, the petrochemical companies, are making a lot of profit out of it. It’s all down to the tax that the government levies on it. The petrochemical companies make most of their money on a kilogram 4 kilogram basis for making chemicals not making fuels.
So that brings me then, to the concept of a carbon dioxide refinery. We take impure waste carbon dioxide and we refine it using carbon capture to produce pure carbon dioxide, 95 % of that purified carbon dioxide.
We would combine with renewable hydrogen to make fuels and that would provide 50 % of the profit for the carbon dioxide refinery. The other 5 % of the carbon dioxide we combine with renewable feedstocks obtained from waste biomass, to make the wide range of chemicals that we need, and that provides the other 50 % of the profit.
Only by making fuel and chemicals together can a carbon dioxide refinery. Like this, be both environmentally sustainable and financially sustainable, the hydrogen that’s needed to make the fuels that can come from electrolysis of water, using renewable energy, for example, from wind turbines and already the Germans have so many wind turbines in the North Sea.
That on windy nights, they have to turn them off, because they’d, would generate so much electricity that the German grid, couldn’t cope and would literally explode the production of chemicals from waste.
Biomass is a major research theme within both the green chemistry center of excellence and the center for novel agricultural products. Here at the University of York and together, we’ve established the bio renewables development Center as a pilot plant facility to allow us to scale up the technologies that we are developing.
So what am i group doing to develop chemistry for use with it? A carbon dioxide refinery: well, we’re interested in a class of chemicals called cyclic, carbonates and cyclic. Carbonates are extremely important because they are the electrolytes used in lithium.
Ion batteries lithium-ion batteries power all the mobile electronic devices that we’ve developed over the last 30 years. This includes mobile phones, iPads laptop computers. This is already a major growth area and surely electric vehicles which also run on lithium-ion batteries ever become mainstream? Then demand for lithium-ion batteries and the cyclic carbonates within them would increase expert if the omyeon batteries are so important that the 2019 nobel prize for chemistry was awarded to three of the scientists who who developed them now.
Cyclic carbonates are already made from carbon dioxide, but existing commercial processes operate at high temperature and high pressure and as a result of which they consume a lot of energy and generating that energy generates a lot of carbon dioxide.
So as currently practiced. The synthesis of cyclic carbonates industrially is actually a net producer of carbon dioxide rather than a consumer. What we’ve developed is technology that allows the synthesis of cyclic carbonates to be achieved under much milder conditions, and on this slide you can see a picture of our most active catalyst which, for the first time allowed the synthesis of cyclic carbonates.
Miss Ferrett pressure with no energy input, another feature of our catalyst it that it’s derived only from earth, crust, abundant elements, carbon hydrogen, nitrogen oxygen and aluminium, which is important because many very useful chemical elements are are so scarce in the earth that We’re, rapidly running out of them and they wouldn’t be available to use in large-scale chemistry.
We then took our most active catalyst and we took variations on it and we were able to use those in flow reactors in a both laboratory scale and also in a pilot plant to show that we could make cyclic carbonates continuously.
The first time, cyclic carbonate synthesis had ever been achieved in a continuous flow reactor, so we took this technology from technology readiness level 1, which is the initial idea through to technology readiness, level 6.
It’s. Now a technology readiness level, sir. We’ve licensed the technology to a European company. They’ve, drawn up plans for a scope full-scale plant and they are currently in the process of getting planning permission to build the plant and raising the financing for it.
So far, this project has taken 13 years to get to where we are present. I’m, hoping that the plant will be built and operational before the patents run out in another eight years time. Otherwise, I won’t make a penny out of it.
Lithium-Ion batteries are not the only thing that you can make from cyclic carbonates work within. My group has also shown that cyclic carbonates make really good polar solvents and that’s, important because the polar solvents which are currently used, the chemicals industry are not only derived from petrochemicals.
They’ve, also been shown to be toxic to unborn children, so it’s. Actually, a major priority at the moment is to get rid of existing polar solvents and cyclic carbonates, who look like they’re, going to be a very good replacement.
We’ve, also shown that we can make polymers out of cyclic carbonates and they form poly urethanes, which you often find in mattresses, for example. So, in a few years time you might be sleeping on some of my cyclic carbonates.
Hopefully I haven’t, put you all to sleep, so it just remains for me to to thank the people who’ve been involved in in this work and and the people who funded it, and this is the source of the credits.