Digital Circular Electrochemical Economy (DCEE)

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

Abstract

This project focuses on a radical change to chemical manufacturing with a view to effective step changes in environmental sustainability and in circularity of materials. We shall focus on the emerging electrochemical sector which is expected to grow strongly and within which there are many opportunities for the deployment of digital technologies to underpin system design and operation.

In response to this call, we have united a cross-disciplinary team of leading researchers from three UK universities (Imperial College, Loughborough, and Heriot-Watt) to create a digital circular electrochemical economy.

The chemical sector is a "hard to decarbonise" sector. Its high embedded carbon comes from two aspects: (1) the intensive energy use; and (2) the use of fossil feedstock. Therefore, the decarbonisation requires the substitution of both two with renewable energy (electrifying the chemical processes) and feedstock (e.g., H2O, CO2). We foresee a closer integration of the electrical energy system with the industrial chemistry system, with the former providing reducing energy formerly available in fossil fuels and which enables the processing of highly oxidised but abundant feedstocks. The intermittency of renewable electricity supply and the economic benefits of flexible processing and closer integration between these two sectors will give rise to opportunities for new digital technologies. These will enable improved design and operation of emerging electrochemical processing technologies and provide new pathways to chemical building blocks (e.g. olefins) and fuels. The integration of the sectors also provides opportunities for cost savings in the electrical system through improved flexibility and demand management.

We propose three work packages (WP) to look at the challenges at different levels, and finally integrate as a whole solution:
- WP1 Digital twins of key electrochemical operation units and processes.
- WP2 Digitalisation of the value chain encompassing the integration between the chemical and electrical systems
- WP3 Policy, Society and Finance, including business models to capture value generation opportunities from industrial integration

Publications

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