Magnetic metal-organic framework composites for pollutant gas capture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Since the industrial revolution, a sharp increase in atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) has been observed from the typical 180-280 ppm to over 400 ppm. This has strongly negative implications for the environment and society, likely resulting in 250,000 additional deaths worldwide annually between 2030 and 2050.

The largest contributor to global anthropogenic CO2 emissions is coal-fired power plants (10.1 Gt in 2018, 30% of total emissions). Post-combustion CO2 capture facilities can be retrofitted into existing power stations. However, the current aqueous amine absorption technologies for this process have high energy requirements for separation and purification, increasing a power plant's energy demand by 25-40% or electricity cost by $0.06 per KWh.

Alternatives have been investigated such as physical absorbents, membranes, chemical looping and solid adsorbents, e.g. porous carbons, zeolites, alumina and metal-organic frameworks. Of these, solid adsorbents possess many advantages over other technologies such as a reduced energy for regeneration from physisorption and greater capacity and selectivity for CO2. Metal-organic frameworks are porous lattices of metal ions/clusters with organic linkers and are of particular interest due to their tuneable natures and high porosities and internal surface areas. These can result in excellent CO2 adsorption profiles, optimisable for specific flue gas conditions.

Proposed solution and methodology

Evaluating metal-organic frameworks for carbon capture applications in realistic working conditions, with consideration of industrial process design is of vital importance for their successful utilisation. This requires materials with high thermal and chemical stabilities and the development of energy-efficient processes. Magnetic framework composites contain metal-organic frameworks combined with magnetic materials and show many advantages over other materials (for example, enhanced thermal stability, simple magnetic-field induced separation, energy-efficient localised induction heating for framework synthesis or regeneration and magnetic field assisted fluidisation).

This project aims to develop novel magnetic framework composites (consisting of functionalised magnetic materials and state-of-the-art metal-organic frameworks) for CO2 capture with profiles and processing capabilities for post-combustion flue gas. Scalable and sustainable syntheses will be explored for these composites, along with their CO2 adsorption capabilities, ideally with efficient regeneration processes. Model flue gas mixtures shall be used for testing and their properties compared to alternative materials.

Planned Impact

This CDT will deliver impact aligned to the following agendas:

A2P will provide over 60 PhD graduates with the skill sets required to deliver innovative sustainable products and processes into the UK chemicals manufacturing industry. A2P will inspire and develop leaders who will:
- understand the needs of industrial end-users;
- embed sustainability across a range of sectors; and
- catalyse the transition to a more productive and resilient UK economy.

A2P will promote a step change towards a circular economy that embraces resilience and efficiency in terms of atoms and energy. The benefits of adopting more sustainable design principles and smarter production are clear. For example, the global production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) has been estimated at 65,000-100,000 tonnes per annum. The scale of associated waste is > 10 million tonnes per annum with a disposal cost of more than £15 billion. Consequently, even a modest efficiency increase by applying new, more sustainable chemical processes would deliver substantial economic savings and environmental wins. A2P will seek and deliver systematic gains across all sectors of the chemicals manufacturing industry. Our goals of providing cross-scale training in chemical sciences with economic and life- cycle awareness will drive uptake of sustainable best practice in UK industry, leading to improved economic competitiveness.

This CDT will deliver significant new knowledge in the development of more sustainable processes and products. It will integrate the philosophy of sustainability with catalysis, synthetic methodology, process engineering, and scale-up. Critical concepts such as energy/resource efficiency, life cycle analysis, recycling, and sustainability metrics will become seamlessly joined to what is considered a 'normal' approach to new molecular products. This knowledge and experience will be shared through publications, conferences and other engagement activities. A2P partners will provide efficient routes to market ensuring the efficient translation and transferal of new technologies is realised, ensuring impact is achieved.

The chemistry-using industries manufacture a rich portfolio of products that are critical in maintaining a high quality of life in the UK. A2P will provide highly trained people and new knowledge to develop smarter, better products, whilst increasing the efficiency and sustainability of chemicals manufacture.
To amplify the impacts of our CDT, effective public engagement and technology transfer will become crucially important. As a general comment, 'sustainability' styled research is often regarded in a positive light by society, however, the science that underpins its effective implementation is often poorly appreciated. The University of Nottingham has developed an effective communication portfolio (with dedicated outreach staff) to tackle this issue. In addition to more traditional routes of scientific communication and dissemination, A2P will develop a portfolio of engagement and outreach activities including blogs, webpages, public outreach events, and contribution of material to our award-winning YouTube channel,

A2P will build on our successful Sustainable Chemicals and Processes Industry Forum (SCIF), which will provide entry to networks with a wide range of chemical science end-users (spanning multinationals through to speciality SMEs), policy makers and regulators. We will share new scientific developments and best practice with leaders in these areas, to help realise the full impact of our CDT. Annual showcase events will provide a forum where knowledge may be disseminated to partners, we will broaden these events to include participants from thematically linked CDTs from across the UK, we will build on our track record of delivering hi-impact inter-CDT events with complementary centres hosted by the Universities of Bath and Bristol.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022236/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2284983 Studentship EP/S022236/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 John Woodliffe
Description Novel magnetic framework composites have been synthesised by multiple routes, characterised and tested for CO2 capture applications. New composite materials have been discovered through these routes with strong profiles for use in CO2 capture applications. The synthesis route is currently being scaled up for potential large-scale manufacture.
Exploitation Route Through a series of scientific publications in journals (currently being written) and also potential communication with industrial parties who might be interested.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description Primary schools with city council sustainable developments 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Approximately 100 primary school pupils gathered over 3 days with representatives from city council to workshop on sustainable development ideas for the city to reach carbon neutral. I and a few other researchers from the university gave short talks on our research and then engaged with the students at the workshop to develop their ideas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description STEM for BRITAIN competition 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact STEM for BRITAIN is an annual poster competition and exhibition run by the Parliamentary & Scientific Committee during British Science Week. Its aim is to give members of Parliament an insight into research work being undertaken in UK universities by early-career researchers. Finalists are invited along with their MPs to the House of Commons for the day, where they present their posters and engage in discussion around their research with MPs, academic judges and representatives from a variety of industries.
A highlight for me was an exciting discussion with Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South, about sustainability and carbon capture research in Nottingham.
My personal motivation for research in this area is Jesus' call to "love our neighbour as ourselves", which has given me a heart for those in developing nations who stand to suffer the most from the disastrous effects of climate change and rising sea levels. I was therefore truly honoured to receive 1st place in the Dyson Sustainability Awards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023