Bimetallic Complexes for Catalysis, Imaging and Information Processing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: OxICFM CDT


Polymers are long molecular chains. They are made by linking together lots of small molecules ("monomers"), like beads on a string. Polymers are very useful, due to the wide range of properties they can exhibit. As such, they are found everywhere in our daily lives: from plastic bags, food packaging, and mattresses, to our shampoos and dental fillings. One problem with our current methods of making polymers is that the monomers used in their production are almost exclusively derived from crude oil. This means that they have considerable carbon footprints, and with growing consciousness around climate change it is becoming increasingly important to make polymer production greener.
Chemists are investigating an alternative method for polymer production that involves replacing half of the oil-derived monomers in a polymer with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is attractive as a chemical building block because it is non-toxic, renewable, and, as a by-product of various industrial processes, inexpensive. This method reduces the carbon footprint of polymers in two ways. Firstly, since you since you use less oil-derived chemicals, less carbon dioxide is released into the environment while making the monomers. Secondly, the fact you are using carbon dioxide as a monomer saves one molecule of carbon dioxide per repeated unit in the polymer. Therefore, this method is an important step forward in making polymers greener.
While carbon dioxide makes an excellent chemical building block, it is very unreactive. This makes it difficult to incorporate into polymers. To counteract this, a "catalyst" is needed. A catalyst is a chemical that speeds up a chemical reaction without being used up in the process. An example is the catalytic converter in your car, which uses precious metals as catalysts to turn toxic, pollutant gases into more benign ones.
Since the late 1960s, chemists around the world have developed many catalysts for incorporating carbon dioxide into polymers. Further improvements largely centre around making catalysts that produce polymer more quickly. Other aims include making the catalysts more robust to increase their longevity, and lowering the high temperature and pressure requirements to lower their running costs and to allow retro-fitting of existing manufacturing plants. This requires a detailed understanding of how the catalysts work. This understanding can allow us to fine-tune catalyst designs to improve their performance.
Another, long-term aim for this project is to use catalysts which change colour upon reaction with carbon dioxide, allowing visual detection of the gas. Since our work involves catalysts which are highly reactive to trace quantities of carbon dioxide, this could allow for very sensitive detection. Carbon dioxide sensing has a variety of applications; including monitoring air quality, agricultural applications, and in medicine to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in a patient's breath.
This project falls within the EPSRC "manufacturing the future" research area.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023828/1 01/04/2019 30/09/2027
2404142 Studentship EP/S023828/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Francesca Fiorentini