What’s on : Lectures

Sustainable development and the CO2 refinery

6 Oct 2020
Start time
7:30 PM
Professor Michael North, Professor of Green Chemistry, University of York

Event Information

Sustainable development and the CO2 refinery
Professor Michael North, Professor of Green Chemistry
Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, Department of Chemistry, University of York.

Our society currently operates on a linear economy approach developed in the 19th century in which fossil fuels are used once and converted into carbon dioxide waste. This is unsustainable both in terms of feedstock supply and ever rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We are starting to transition to a circular economy model based on sustainable feedstocks and the utilisation of the waste from one process as the feedstock for another. These concepts will be highlighted with an emphasis on the chemicals industry and it will be shown that waste carbon dioxide can itself be a sustainable feedstock for a future chemicals industry through the development of a carbon dioxide refinery.

Hosted on Zoom: Members are sent details before the event.

Member’s report

Reserves of Earth’s non-renewable energy sources are rapidly depleting: current reserves of oil and gas are sufficient for only 50 years, and of coal for 130 years. Their use results in the enormous emission of CO2 which is a cause of global warming. The major national emitters are China and the USA but a more instructive ranking relates to wealth – the poorest 50% of the world’s population emit only 10% of the CO2, and the richest 10% (individuals with assets worth more than £47k) emit 49%.

A small percentage of non-renewable energy sources is used as feedstocks for profitable chemicals. The rest is used as fuel, which is gradually being replaced by greener solar, wind, and nuclear energies. The chemical industry now aims to transform its historically dirty image by working on cleaner and less hazardous products essential for a sustainable future.

As a partial alternative to storing waste CO2 underground, a ‘green chemistry’ approach is proposed: separating waste CO2 from other gases by using absorbents made from waste biomass (such as potato peel or seaweed), and using the refined CO2 as a feedstock. The most profitable products would be relatively small quantities of specialist chemicals, but a further plan is to manufacture enhanced fuels by reacting CO2 with hydrogen made from green electrical energy. The overall approach is a move from a linear economy (make, use, and dump) towards a circular economy (use, reuse, remake, and recycle).

A major current focus is the use of novel catalysts developed by the team, to combine CO2 with other chemicals to make cyclic hydrocarbons that are used as electrolytes in lithium ion batteries. The innovative process requires little energy, and is at an advanced stage of development with a commercial partner. RL

Rod Leonard