Sustainable Processing of Energy Materials from Waste

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Department of Chemical Engineering

Abstract

This project aims at developing new processes for waste remanufacturing based on hydrothermal and microwave treatments to yield sustainable products such as advanced carbon materials and chemicals, which in turn could be manufactured into battery devices
Hydrothermal or microwave conversion of waste will result in a liquid phase containing important chemicals such as levulinic acid (LA) and 5-hydroxymethyl furfural (5-HMF), which are platform intermediates for a range of products including solvents and precursors of polymers, pharmaceuticals, plasticizers and other biofuels. We will separate these chemicals from the aqueous phase using preparative chromatography and convert them into other useful products using the carbon catalysts produced from the solid phase of the waste conversion. This will thus close the loop in biowaste product utilization.
In parallel, we will also use the solid carbon materials to manufacture anode materials for Li and Na ion batteries. We will test the performance of these waste-derived electrodes in half- and, based on the best performant materials, full cells.
We will evaluate the environmental impact of the manufacturing of these products at each life cycle, their cost compared with other products on the market, and we will perform multiscale modelling to predict the ability of these processes and products to be upscaled.
Our proposed collaborative research activities have the potential to reduce environmental pollution and find new and innovative ways to recycle/remanufacture waste into advanced materials. In addition, the resulting biofuels and batteries from our processes will help the UK achieve its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and introduce more renewables.
A team of highly qualified researchers has been brought together for this project, including two top research institutions in the UK (QMUL and UCL) and two in China (Tsinghua and Chinese Academic of Science) and researchers with complementary expertise in hydrothermal and microwave manufacturing, heterogeneous catalysis, biowaste conversion, carbon materials and battery research. This project will train two PDRAs and two PhD students in the UK which will interact closely with two PDRAs in China.
This grant will ensure the continuation of long lasting collaborations between the UK and China, will help prevent pollution and waste in both countries, and develop sustainable technologies for manufacturing advanced carbons, chemicals and batteries.

Planned Impact

The need to reduce pollution, waste, the world's dependence on fossil fuels and mitigating contributions to man-made climate change is the most important of grand challenges of this century.
Our proposed research activities will contribute to this mission by unlocking new technologies for waste remanufacturing by accessing sustainable carbon materials, chemicals, liquid fuels, green solvents and battery electrodes from bio- and plastic waste.
The outcomes of the research will lead to:

i) Preventing waste generation and environmental pollution
ii) Mitigating landfills and methane emissions
iii) Creating sustainable high-importance value-added products from waste
iv) Replace fossil derived fuels and chemicals with waste-derived counterparts
v) Increasing the percentage of renewables used for electricity generation by implementing affordable and low-cost energy storage solutions
vi) Reducing the environmental impact of materials and chemicals manufacturing
vii) Creating new business opportunities for the waste sector and the battery industry
viii) Connecting the waste sector with the advanced chemicals production and batteries, stimulating a circular economy

Our proposed research activities will have a major impact on a range of stakeholders.
1. The waste producing industries, via our novel bio- and plastic-waste conversion processes
2. Catalyst manufacturers via creating affordable catalysts without critical metals
3. The chemicals industry, through the development of new catalytic production routes and separation technologies for platform bio-derived chemicals.
4. The energy, vehicle and transport industry, via creating low cost and affordable batteries promoting electric cars and a higher percentage of renewable utilization
5. Software industry, via the development of new models to assess sustainability, risk-assessment and economics.
6. Waste sector who will be interested to implement our proposed technologies at a larger scale
7. Help China's targets to reduce pollution/waste and GHG emissions

To ensure accelerated routes to impact we have contacted a company from the waste sector in the UK and a company working in battery manufacturing in China. This puts us in the strong position of having a dialogue with direct beneficiaries of our proposed technologies and end users. The PI has also very good connections with other battery manufacturers in the UK such as Faradion and Johnson Matthey with whom she is currently collaborating on a Na-ion battery grants. The success of this proposal will thus be crucial to link the waste sector with end users and to stimulate a circular economy. Likewise, the PI in China has good connections with the waste sector. We will contact companies working in waste collection and recycling in China once we have demonstrated initial progress.

The project will train two PDRA researchers and two PhD students in cross- and multidisciplinary science-driven technologies to contribute to the creation of the next generation of research leaders in sustainable waste remanufacturing processes and green products.

Publications

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