The primary solution to the Climate Crisis is the cessation of the use of fossil fuels for energy production. Nearly all the materials used in today's society either contain carbon or are produced with carbon that originate from fossil fuels. Technologies that can create the same materials from Renewable Carbon – i.e. biomass, recycled materials or CO2 – need to be developed.
For CO2, the challenge is its low chemical reactivity, so energy must be added either to capture it or to use it for the production chemicals. The energy need can be lowered by the use of catalysts. In CO2 capture technology, which is needed to extract the CO2 from the industrial gas emissions, amines are used to "activate" the CO2 and make it easier to separate from other gases.
The ALCOPOP project aims to take advantage of the activated CO2 that is provided by CO2 capture technologies to lower further the energy needed to transform CO2 into chemicals. In this case, the project is targeting a set of chemicals known as organic carbonates that have industrial applications as solvents and intermediate chemicals for polymers, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. The other reagent needed for the product synthesis is an alcohol that can be readily sourced from biomass, thus creating a fully circular and sustainable production pathway for these chemicals.
The ALCOPOP project is a collaborative effort between the University of South-east Norway, SINTEF Industry, Bilfinger and Herøya Industry Park. The project will use results from reactivity, spectroscopic and modelling studies to develop the kinetic and mechanistic basis for an innovative process design. The integration of this new, industrially symbiotic process into the CO2 management and circular transformation of an industry park will be evaluated. Economic benefits resulting from the lower energy requirements, the process integration of CO2 capture and CO2 conversion and transformation of waste gas CO2 to valuable chemicals are anticipated.
The target is to find a new process concept for the synthesis of ethylene carbonate (EC) from CO2 and biomass sourced ethylene glycol (EG) via amine pre-activation of CO2 which enhances carbonate ester yield, uses CO2 feedstock from a CO2 capture (CC) unit, and reduces energy need of the CC unit.
Ethylene carbonate is a commercially relevant chemical with applications as solvent, battery electrolyte and a potential starting material for a whole host of high-value added specialty chemicals in the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and potentially monomers for polycarbonate and polyurethane plastics. The global EC market is expected to grow from 319 M$ in 2020 to 439 M$ in 2025 (pre-COVID data). EC is made industrially from CO2 and ethylene oxide (EO) in the presence of a catalyst at high temperatures and pressure (160-200 °C; 70-100 bar). While this may seem a positive use of CO2, the manufacture of EO emits 2-3 Mton/yr CO2. Therefore, a general, sustainable and carbon-neutral route to EC and related carbonic acid diesters not requiring EO would significantly reduce CO2 emissions.
A more sustainable pathway is the conversion of CO2 and biomass sourced alcohols or diols. The challenge is that any reaction of CO2 and alcohol/diol have low, thermodynamically limited yields of 1-2 %. Amines are already known to be beneficial to CO2 reactivity which is tailored to Le Chatelier principle based reaction engineering.
Fundamental understanding of reaction mechanisms is key for advancing catalyst and process design. The state-of-the-art provides very limited mechanistic information. Detailed studies starting from an isolable, presumed intermediate discoverd during our earlier work is our departure point for the project.
The project combines concurrent work on carbonate ester synthesis (WP1), reaction and equilibria analysis by NMR (WP2), atomic scale modelling (WP3), process development (WP4) and responsible development and diffusion, RRI (WP5).