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UK-Brazilian approach to a global problem

Posted on 6 November 2018

As part of the UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation, Professor Michael North has written an article explaining how researchers in York and Brazil are working together to develop new methods to convert excess carbon dioxide into sustainable materials for battery technologies.

The large increase in carbon dioxide over the last 100 years, leading to global warming with planet-wide effects, is a very significant problem that urgently needs mitigation. One way of limiting emissions is to develop carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) technologies. This approach aims to capture waste carbon dioxide from emissions and convert it into useful products. Major carbon dioxide emission sources occur globally and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is the same everywhere. This means carbon dioxide, unlike the original fossil fuels from which much of it derives, is an ideal source of carbon for the developing world as it is freely available and has complete security of supply. Furthermore, if these useful products are part of cleaner technologies, this approach creates a virtuous circular economy that will assist the transition towards clean energy.

In his article, Professor North explains how in collaboration with the group of Professor Claudio Mota at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence aims to use carbon dioxide as a feedstock to develop a completely sustainable synthesis of a class of chemicals called cyclic carbonates, which are used as the electrolytes in lithium ion batteries. These batteries power the mobile electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptop PCs prevalent in modern society, and even more vitally will underpin the next generation of electric vehicles that will assist in the transition to a sustainable economy.

It is essential for CCU that the other chemicals needed, and any energy required, are supplied renewably. Brazil is an ideal country in which to develop such sustainable CCU systems. It has a large and diverse landmass supporting a wide variety of biomass from the Amazon rainforest to sugar cane plantations. The sustainable use of, preferably waste, biomass can then provide the other chemicals needed to facilitate CCU.

The teams of chemists and chemical engineers are developing ways to utilise waste carbon dioxide sources in Brazil, such as from gas fields and bio-ethanol production sites, and then combine the carbon dioxide with chemicals available from Brazilian biomass to provide a sustainable route for the large-scale preparation of cyclic carbonates. If successful, the project will help Brazil to continue developing its economy whilst avoiding further increases in carbon dioxide emissions.

The UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation is a year-long programme of events and partnerships in science, technology and innovation between the UK and Brazil.

Read Professor North’s original article.