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While those dedicated to protecting the climate see carbon dioxide as da damaging greenhouse gas, for chemists it is a potential raw material.
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While those dedicated to protecting the climate see CO2 as a damaging greenhouse gas, for chemists it is a potential raw material. The carbon atom in CO2 could be used to form new molecules. Theoretically at any rate. In practice, CO2 has low reactivity, so breaking it down into its chemical constituents requires a large amount of energy. And that is neither economical nor environment-friendly.
Consequently, this greenhouse gas can only be used as a raw material if the energy required for synthesis reactions is lower than at present. To achieve this, customized catalysts and high-energy reaction partners are needed. And, of course, they need to be produced without any detrimental impact on the climate. Evonik is researching this in collaboration with three German universities—Aachen, Dortmund and Bochum—as part of the H2ECO2 project. This three-year project is funded by the Ministry for Innovation, Science, Research and Technology of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia and co-financed by the European Union. Total funding is around €7 million and Dr. Daniela Kruse, project manager at Evonik’s strategic research and development organization, Creavis Technologies & Innovation, says that the goal for Evonik and its partners is "to produce new processes for polymers and specialty chemicals that use CO2 as a starting product, and thus offer economic and ecological benefits. The aim is to use hydrogen obtained from water with the aid of sunlight as the high-energy reaction partner."
While the universities are driving forward development of catalysts for eco-friendly conversion of CO2 and the production of hydrogen, Evonik is responsible for the economic, ecological and technical aspects of the project. At its heart is the Eco2 Scienceto- Business Center run by Creavis, which has been working on ten publicly funded research projects focused on resource efficiency and climate protection for the past two years. In the H2ECO2 project Creavis defines target molecules for which CO2 could be used as a cost-effective raw material. Life cycle assessments are used to check whether the new pathway is more sustainable than the conventional synthesis process.
The close, open and interdisciplinary collaboration is already starting to show significant results. While Evonik rejected target molecules that were not feasible, the universities had to learn that not everything that is viable in the laboratory can be scaled up for economical and sustainable use by industry. Nevertheless a good year on many promising results have been obtained. Examples are catalysts whose ecological and economic benefits now have to be optimized. This initial scientific success has been made possible by the equality of all partners working towards the ambitious goal of returning CO2 to the value chain and thus making a contribution to climate protection.