Nano-structured Catalysts for CO2 Reduction to Fuels

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry

Abstract

Fossil fuels are society's major energy sources and the primary raw materials for the chemicals industry. However, there are significant concerns associated with their sustainability, depletion and cost. In particular, many of the UK's North Sea reserves will soon become uneconomic / depleted, so we need to find alternatives urgently. Furthermore, the combustion of fossil fuels, e.g. during energy conversion, releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The UK is already committed to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but significantly greater reductions (85%) are likely to be necessary in order to prevent devastating climate change (>2 degree C increase in temperature). Energy conversion for electricity and transport is responsible for 74% of CO2 emissions; new sustainable energy sources are essential. These new energy sources must be CO2 neutral or, even better, CO2 depleting. One solution is to use carbon dioxide itself as the fuel and feedstock material. Our solution is to react CO2 with H2 or water, using chemical, photochemical or electrochemical catalysts, to produce liquid transport fuels, such as methanol. Flue gases from power stations and/or industrial process, such as metal/alloy manufacture, are major contributors to UK CO2 emissions and will be abundant sources of CO2 for the foreseeable future. Many other industrial emissions also contain considerable concentrations of CO2 including those derived from biological processes, e.g. fermentation. The hydrogen required will be produced by water electrolysis powered by solar or other renewable source of energy. The key economic issue lies in decreasing the energy required for the processes. We aim to achieve this via the development of new, highly active metal/metal oxide nano-structured catalysts, which offer superior performance due to their high surface areas, reduced loadings, low overpotentials and which can be synthesised controllably. We shall use three parallel, yet complementary, approaches to energise the process: direct chemical (thermal) hydrogenation, electrochemical and photochemical reductions of carbon dioxide and water.Our team comprises scientist, engineers and environmental policy researchers at Imperial College London and University College London. We have expertise in chemical catalysis, electrochemistry, photochemistry, reactor engineering, materials science, nanotechnology, sustainable chemistry and environmental science. We have a significant track record in the activation and use of carbon dioxide as a resource. The project will also involve collaborations with, and be support by, the Imperial College London Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the Energy Futures Lab and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change.

Planned Impact

The project aims to develop novel nanostructured catalysts to enable the reduction of carbon dioxide to produce carbon-based fuels, with chemical (H2), electrochemical or photonic (light) energy inputs. In effect, this is the reverse process to the combustion of fossil fuels and a mimic for natural CO2 activation in leaves (an 'artificial leaf' concept). There are three compelling societal driving forces (and potential impacts) for this research: 1) peak oil production, 2) renewable liquid transport fuels which are compatible with the current transportation grid from secure and inexpensive sources, and 3) the reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases. Our research will address these fundamental economic and environmental issues by developing low cost, scalable synthesis of renewable transportation fuels from carbon dioxide sequestered from flue gases. The project involves a cross disciplinary team working at Imperial College London and at University College London in the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and the Centre for Environmental Policy. We have expertise in areas including catalysis, materials science, analytical chemistry, reaction engineering, electrochemistry and photochemistry. It also involves a team of industrial project partners working in industries which both emit CO2 and produce catalysts, including E-on (an energy provider), Cemex (a cement manufacturer), Johnson Matthey (a supplier of precious metals and catalysts) and Millenium-cristal (supplier of photocatalysts). These specific industrial partners are clear beneficiaries of the proposed research; however, a range of other UK industries and companies are likely beneficiaries, including industries which emit carbon dioxide in significant quantities (for example power suppliers, steel or aluminium manufacturers), fuel companies and fuel users, in particular the automotive industry. These industries will benefit from both the specific scientific and technological project objectives and deliverables and also from the collaboration with the team at ICL/UCL and with one another. One of the most important objectives of the research is to evaluate the technological, economic and environmental impacts of various strategies for transforming carbon dioxide into fuels. This assessment will be of particular value to the industrial partners (and to a whole range of other corporations, government agencies, charities and other academics working in this field). In stage 1 of the proposal, the collaborating industrial partners have been limited to CO2 emitters (in significant quantities and concentrations) and producers of catalysts/photocatalysts, in-line with the key objectives of this stage of the proposal. However, for stage 2, we plan to expand the range of industrial partners to include a wider range of fuel suppliers and users. The project team have extensive experience of industrial collaboration, including with relevant potential industrial partners (fuel producers and users) for stage 2. The project management plans include bi-annual project meetings, a one day research symposia, between all the academic collaborators and the industrial partners. The work will also be disseminated by publication in peer reviewed academic journals, by presentations at international scientific and technical conferences and meetings and also by public engagement activities. The novelty of the research combined with a project scope means that the programme can be anticipated to yield a large number of new intellectual assets. These will be managed by the business development unit at Imperial College London and the Energy Futures lab.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We developed a series of new catalysts and a slurry process for the reaction of carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce methanol. The catalysts comprise nanoparticles and are stable colloids of nanometre size. The research investigated how to make the nanoparticles and developed a highly reproducible method to make ultra-small nanoparticles. The characterization of the nanoparticles was accomplished using a range of solution and solid state methods. The catalysts were applied in a new process where a continuously stirred tank reactor was built as part of the project. We discovered that the catalysts show equivalent or better reactivity compared to a commercial standard which comprised a catalysts based on ZnO/Al2O3/Cu which was suspended in solution. In parallele, the chemical engineering teams explored methods to electrolyse water/carbon dioxide mixtures to produce syn-gas (CO/CO2/H2). Catalysts operating under both low and high temperature regimes were explored and compared - the high temperature, solid oxide systems showed higher performances. The photoelectrochemical aspect of the project focussed on investigating new photoactive materials and catalysts allowing the formation of products from carbon dioxide. Life cycle and systems analysis was initiated and showed a strong dependence on the source of hydrogen with the overall sustainability of the process
Exploitation Route The research has laid the first foundations for a subsequent EPSRC grant which was awarded - EP/K035274/1
We have also initiated discussions with a range of companies to test the catalysts and process in collaboration with and funded by industry
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment

 
Description A patent application has been filed to protect the inventions started in this grant
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Chemicals,Energy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Grand Challenges in Nanotechnology
Amount £2,500,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K035274/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2013 
End 04/2019
 
Title Method of synthesising polycarbonates in the presence of a bimetallic catalyst and a chain transfer agent 
Description SEE TITLE 
IP Reference WO2013034750 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted
Licensed Yes
Impact COMMERCIALLY SENSITIVE INFORMATION BUT LICENSED TO ECONIC TECHNOLOGIES
 
Title Process for producing nanoparticles 
Description SEE TITLE 
IP Reference WO2013164650 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted
Licensed No
Impact LICENSE DISCUSSIONS UNDERWAY WITH INTERESTED PARTIES
 
Company Name econic technologies 
Description see company website for more information: http://www.econic-technologies.com/ polymers from CO2 
Year Established 2011 
Impact see website
Website http://www.econic-technologies.com/
 
Description Article in EPA Newsletter, June 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Reynal, A., Durrant, J. R., Kinetic control in TiO2 functionalised with molecular dyes and catalysts for H+ reduction.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Invited Keynote lecture at Canadian Chemistry Congress Quebec City (Green Chemistry) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Interview with a journalist
Collaborations
Academic discussions
Discussions with companies

See above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.csc2013.ca/
 
Description Invited and keynote lecture at 21 st Bioenvironmental Polymer Society Conference (Warwick) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Discussions with academics and industrialists

New collaboration formed with Michael Meier which resulted in a research exchange of Dr Mathias Winkler to Imperial College in 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.beps.org/warwick.html
 
Description Invited lecture at 10th IUPAC International Conference on Advanced Polymers via Macromolecular Engineering (Durham); 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact New collaborations with academics in Sweden
discussions

see above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.iupac.org/publications/ci/2012/3405/ca4_18.08.13.html
 
Description Keynote lecture at Macro Group Young Researcher's Symposium, Nottingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Discussions with students

New applications to my research group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.macrogroup.org.uk/meeting/
 
Description Lecture at Sustainable Polymers Conference (ACS and RSC co-organising) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Discussion and new collaborations formed (Stefan Mecking, germany).

Raised academic profile of the group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://polyacs.net/Workshops/13sustainable/program.htm
 
Description Presentation at the American Chemical Society National Meeting special symposium on Green Polymer Chemistry: Biobased Materials and Biocatalysis 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Discussions with industrialists and academics

Book Chapter written in collaboration with other speakers - for the ACS symposium series
New collaborations likely
Invitations to collaborate
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://abstracts.acs.org/chem/248nm/meetingview.php?page=session&par_id=713