SCIENTISTS in the North have pioneered a new technique of recycling CO2 to reduce greenhouse gases – a process experts are saying is akin to “turning waste into gold”.
A team of Newcastle University professors have developed a highly energy-efficient method of converting waste carbon dioxide into chemical compounds known as cyclic carbonates.
These compounds can then be used in the manufacturing of household products including solvents, paint- strippers and plastic bags.
And professor of organic chemistry Mike North, who is leading the team, believes this method could cut UK emissions by up to 4% and use up to 48 million tonnes of waste CO2 each year.
He said: “Obviously at the moment the planet is producing far too much CO2 and that’s the main cause of global warming.
“What we are doing is turning waste into gold, which is what alchemists have been trying to do for hundreds of years.
“The main source of CO2 gases produced is from power stations, and after that it’s chemical plants and oil refineries.
“We recycle the waste products and turn them into the cyclic carbonates, which can be then used to produce other things.”
Prof North has spent two years developing the system which works in a similar way to a catalytic converter on a car. CO2 gases are diverted into a chamber where a catalyst is used to force a chemical reaction between the waste gas and an epoxide and ultimately creating the cyclic carbonates.
Previously this process required huge amounts of energy, including high temperatures and high pressure, which produces more CO2 than it consumes. But the Newcastle team has now succeeded in creating an improved catalyst from aluminium which aids the process.
This means the reaction can take place at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressure – vastly reducing the energy input required.
The technique could be in put into operation in as little as two years, however Prof North is adamant this is not a definitive solution to global warming, just a drop in the ocean of a massive problem.
He said: “This is not the answer to global warming. It’s one piece of a bigger jigsaw. We will not completely reduce the production of global warming but it’s one way of slowing it down.
“If this is one way of reducing it by 4% then we need to find another 10 ways to turn that into 40%.
“But if our catalyst could be employed at the source of high-concentration CO2 production, for example in the exhaust stream of a fossil-fuel power station, we could take out the carbon dioxide, turn it into a commercially-valuable product and at the same time eliminate the need to store waste CO2.”
This is not the answer to global warming. It’s one piece of a bigger jigsaw.