Newton fund: Waste CO2 and biomass based chemical synthesis for the green economy

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Chemistry


Research and partnership activities will focus around two areas:

Workshops in both countries will develop pathways to the combined sustainable utilisation of carbon dioxide and bio-derived molecules within Brazil as part of a green economy

Research exchanges between young researchers from both countries will build technical know-how on the utilisation of waste carbon dioxide (CO2) to develop bio-derived chemicals and fuels. The research will focus on testing heterogeneous and homogeneous catalysts for the production of bio-derived organic carbonates, waste CO2 capture and analysis of the technoeconomic feasibility and sustainability aspects.

The activities will take advantage of the complementary experience and knowledge in the capture and utilisation of carbon dioxide, the valorisation of bio-derived chemicals, the development of bio-derived plastics and materials and sustainability analysis at the University of York and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The research will build on the work within the EPSRC grant on the development of bio-derived plastics from CO2 and waste. The York and Brazilian PIs have complementary backgrounds in CO2 utilisation using homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis respectively. By working together, the two PIs can find solutions to the synthesis of cyclic carbonates from waste carbon dioxide and bio-derived diols to create a new area of expertise within Brazil. The Co-Is add additional experience in CO2 capture, bio-based molecule utilisation and technoeconomic and life-cycle analysis. By combining this expertise, we will highlight pathways from an economic, social, technical and environmental perspective for the utilisation of waste carbon dioxide combined with bio-derived molecules and evaluate the benefits within the Environment-Energy-Water nexus.

Two three-day workshops will be held, the first in Brazil (ca March 2015) and the second in the UK (September 2015). The aim of these workshops will be to share knowledge, skills and experience in sustainability, catalysis, carbon dioxide capture and utilisation, and waste biomass valorisation to produce materials, chemicals and fuels. The outcome will be a waste carbon dioxide utilisation pathway.

Planned Impact

Anthropogenic use of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide, is a major cause of climate change. Recent research on the utilisation of carbon dioxide as a chemical feedstock shows promise, enabling the lowering of greenhouse gas emissions, the replacement of existing petrochemical derived products and reduction in costs associated with carbon capture and storage. The use of CO2 as a feedstock could also stimulate the green economy and reduce the pressure on biomass resources that compete with food.

Brazil has several unique opportunities in this field, particularly due to the availability of waste carbon dioxide from the large-scale fermentation of sugarcane and bagasse combustion. This offers advantages over other sources, as waste CO2 from fermentation will not require purification and will meet emerging (EU) standards around the bio-content of products. The combination of this waste carbon dioxide with Brazilian bio-derived molecules, specifically bioethanol and glycerol, to produce organic carbonates would be of huge commercial interest due to their applications for the synthesis of polymers and as electrolytes in lithium ion batteries. Unfortunately, Brazil lags behind in the field of CO2 utilisation.

The production of organic carbonates from diols, generated from ethanol and glycerol, is challenging because carbon dioxide is a relatively inert molecule with high activation barriers, requiring the use of catalysts. The development of efficient catalytic systems, along with strategies to remove the water formed, are key factors in developing carbonate synthesis from carbon dioxide and alcohols (at present they are manufactured by other routes involving epoxides, phosgene or carbon monoxide, all of which are toxic and petrochemical derived).

This project will therefore improve CO2 utilisation expertise and knowledge within Brazil, whilst outlining paths for the production of new materials and chemicals using green routes to combine Brazilian waste carbon dioxide and bio-derived chemicals, including ethanol and glycerol. This project will draw on the many years of expertise in CO2 chemistry, homogeneous catalysis and bio-derived chemicals at the University of York with the experience in heterogeneous catalysis, CO2 capture and glycerol and ethanol chemistry at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The work feeds into the EPSRC Grand Challenge on CO2 Utilisation, which the UK PI is deputy director of, and will also build on the research at York within the EPSRC platform grant on the development of plastics from bio-derived wastes and CO2. This project will focus on alternative bio-derived starting materials and greener routes for the formation of carbonates by combining diols with unpurified waste CO2 using heterogeneous catalysts. A longer term opportunity will be to look at their use as monomers for new bio-derived plastics opening up new possibilities within this project. Brazilian companies have developed routes to the production of bio-derived polyethylene from bioethanol. This project will enable extension to a broader range of bio-based polymers including polycarbonates, whilst utilising a 'biorefinery' approach.

Currently little work has been carried out on the potential for CO2 mitigation by utilising CO2 as a chemical feedstock, and its potential within the green economy. Collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York will provide the expertise to carry out this analysis, working with researchers at UFRJ, to analyse sustainable pathways and commercial opportunities for Brazilian waste CO2 utilisation.

The combination of expertise in the UK and Rio de Janeiro State will create a long-term platform for collaborations around CO2 utilisation and increased expertise and know-how within Brazil and the UK for the development of new sustainable chemical pathways for a green economy.


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Description As a result of this grant we now have a better understanding of the issues associated with collaborating with Brazil, particularly the length of time it takes to get chemicals into and out of Brazil.
Exploitation Route As part of this project we held a brazil day conference in York to facilitate new UK-Brazil collaborations and exchange best practice between existing projects.
Sectors Chemicals,Education,Energy,Environment,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description As part of this project, 4 young researchers from Rio attended the RSC Faraday Discussions meeting on CO2 utilisation in Sheffield.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Chemicals,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Brazil 
Organisation Federal University of ParanĂ¡
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Exchange of staff and knowledge
Collaborator Contribution Exchange of staff and knowledge
Impact none
Start Year 2015
Description newton rio meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A one day conference on Anglo brazil collaborations to increase effectiveness of collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015