Green carbon for the chemical industry of the future

11 - 12 December 2023 09:00 - 17:00 The Royal Society Free Watch online
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Scientific Discussion meeting organised by Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FREng FRS, Sir Richard Catlow FRS, Professor Matthew Davidson, Professor Matthew Rosseinsky FRS, and Professor Charlotte Williams OBE FRS.

Society is facing the unavoidable challenge of providing essential chemicals and materials from sustainable resources. We need a chemical industry based on non-fossil carbon that can manufacture these products in a net-zero future. The meeting focused on this grand challenge by bringing together scientists and engineers across disciplines to define the advances needed to tackle this crucial problem.

Meeting papers will be published in a future issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Programme  

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Image credit: iStockphoto / hh5800

Organisers

  • Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS, Cardiff University, UK

    Graham Hutchings, born 1951, studied chemistry at University College London. His early career was with ICI and AECI Ltd where he became interested in heterogeneous catalysis initially with oxides and subsequently with gold catalysis. In 1984 he moved to academia and has held chairs at the Universities of Witwatersrand, Liverpool and Cardiff and currently he is Director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2009, and he was awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 2013.

  • Professor Richard Catlow FRS, University College London, UK

    Richard Catlow’s scientific programme develops and applies computer models to solid state and materials chemistry - areas of chemistry that investigate the synthesis, structure and properties of functional materials. His approach applies powerful computational methods with experiment, to contribute to areas as diverse as catalysis and mineralogy. His approach has also advanced our understanding of how defects in the atomic level structure of solids can play a key role in modifying their electronic, chemical and mechanical properties.

    His work has offered insight into the behaviour of nuclear fuels under irradiation and to the molecular mechanisms underlying industrial catalysis, especially involving microporous materials and metal oxides, in structural chemistry and mineralogy. Simulation methods are now routinely used to predict the structures of complex solid materials.

    His work has been extensively published and cited with over 1000 research articles and several books and reviews.

    He has worked extensively on collaborative projects with the developing world, especially in Africa, and was elected Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society - the Academy of Sciences of the UK - in 2016.

  • Professor Matthew Davidson, University of Bath, UK

    Matthew Davidson is Whorrod Professor of Sustainable Chemical Technologies and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at the University of Bath, UK. His research focuses on the application of molecular chemistry and catalysis to sustainable chemical processes such as manufacture of renewable fuels, chemicals and plastics. He graduated in Chemistry from the University of Wales, Swansea and received a PhD from the University of Cambridge. Following a Research Fellowship at St John’s College, Cambridge, he held Lectureships in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and Durham University before being appointed to a Chair of Chemistry at Bath in 1999. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a previous recipient of its Harrison Memorial Prize.

  • Professor Matthew Rosseinsky FRS, University of Liverpool, UK

    "Matthew Rosseinsky obtained a degree in Chemistry from the University of Oxford and a D Phil under the supervision of Professor P Day, FRS in 1990. He was a Postdoctoral Member of Technical Staff at AT &T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey where his work with D W Murphy, A F Hebard and R C Haddon led to the discovery of superconductivity in alkali metal fullerides. In 1992, he was appointed University Lecturer at the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford, where he remained until 1999 when he moved to the University of Liverpool as Professor of Inorganic Chemistry. He was awarded the inaugural de Gennes Prize for Materials Chemistry (a lifetime award for achievement in this research area open to all scientists internationally) by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2009 and the CNR Rao Award of the Chemical Research Society of India in 2010. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008, and was awarded the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society in 2011.  His work addresses the synthesis of new functional materials for energy and information storage applications, and has been characterised by extensive collaboration with many academic and industrial colleagues."

  • Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, UK

    Charlotte K Williams (Department of Chemistry, Oxford University) researches catalysis that allow renewable resources to be used to make polymers, composites and fuels. Her research includes the development of homogeneous catalysts for polymerizations of plant-derived resources and carbon dioxide to deliver oxygenated polymers. She also investigates colloidal nanoparticle catalysts for the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide or syn-gas to methanol and dimethyl ether. More information can be found at her research group webpages: http://research.chem.ox.ac.uk/charlotte-williams.aspx. She is the founder of econic technologies which commercializes catalysts for carbon dioxide/epoxide copolymerizations (http://www.econic-technologies.com/). Her work has been recognised by the RSC Corday Morgan Prize (2015) and the WISE Tech Start Up Award (2014).

Schedule

Chair

Professor Richard Catlow FRS, University College London, UK

09:00-09:05 Welcome by the Royal Society and lead organiser
09:05-09:30 Green Carbon and Hydrogen: the road to Net Zero chemicals manufacture

The carbon and hydrogen rainbows are delineated in the context of the Chemical Industry of the Future. The role of green carbon, derived from terrestrial or aquatic biomass or organic waste, including carbon dioxide emissions, which cannot be seen independently of the role of green hydrogen, is discussed with relevant examples. This, in turn, is dependent on the use of renewable energy – solar, wind or nuclear - for the generation of the green hydrogen. 

Professor Roger A Sheldon FRS, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

Professor Roger A Sheldon FRS, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

09:30-09:45 Discussion
09:45-10:15 From linear to circular – Will this make industry more sustainable and can LCA help?

The circular economy is widely heralded as being more sustainable and better for the environment. But is this true? How would we know? One of the most widely used tools to determine environmental impact is lifecycle assessment. This has been used across many sectors to help identify where impacts occur at early stages and how to make policy decisions and interventions. Life cycle assessment historically took a cradle to grave approach. Sometimes, and more appropriately, it analyses from cradle to cradle. This enables us to create more circular models – a fine tool to measure the impact of the circular economy and circular approaches we might think. But things are rarely circular. Instead, we see a web with products being recycled and remanufactured into ever increasingly new materials. On the one hand this is fantastic! However, we need to know if these systems truly are lower in carbon and have a lower environmental impact. Currently LCA and carbon accounting is not keeping up. We need to develop better ways of determining impact temporally and spatially. This talk will outline some of the work we're undertaking as part of the IDRIC project to create a framework that will truly enable a better understanding of complex interactions in a circular economy. We will explore how green is green when it comes to carbon? What makes it so and how can we measure it?

Professor Marcelle McManus, University of Bath, UK

Professor Marcelle McManus, University of Bath, UK

10:15-10:30 Discussion
10:30-11:00 Break
11:00-11:30 Catalysis as a driver for sustainable chemistry

Heterogeneous catalysis, one of the cornerstones of the chemical industry, is at the forefront of innovation to make clean energy, use renewable raw materials and minimize waste generation, all of which are key objectives for achieving sustainable development. To meet these challenges, catalytic processes must consider multidimensional phenomena, ranging from the design of active centres at the nanometre scale to environmental footprint assessment at the planetary scale. This requires a Herculean effort, integrating interdisciplinary fundamental research with state-of-the-art tools and close collaboration with industry to enable implementation. This approach can provide, in addition to rich intellectual satisfaction, decisive processes for society to evolve towards a circular economy. This talk will present recent examples from Professor Pérez-Ramírez’ lab that will unpack this exciting process in more detail.

Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Professor Javier Pérez-Ramírez, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

11:30-11:45 Discussion
11:45-12:15 Towards the electrification of chemical production

The most commonly produced chemicals, such as ethylene or ammonia, are currently produced in large-scale centralised plants, typically at elevated temperatures and pressures. The transport of these reactive compounds to the end user poses significant safety and logistical challenges. However, with the advent of inexpensive renewable electricity, electrochemical routes of synthesising these chemicals are becoming increasingly attractive. Low temperature electrochemical devices are particularly amenable towards coupling with renewables. They require little infrastructure; as such, they could allow for localised chemical production at the point-of-consumption. In this contribution, the author will discuss recent developments in the electrochemical valorisation of CO2, furfural and glycerol to fuels and high value chemicals.

Professor Ifan Stephens, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Ifan Stephens, Imperial College London, UK

12:15-12:30 Discussion

Chair

Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, UK

13:30-14:00 Imagining a chemical industry based on renewable and recycled carbon

Widespread use of renewable chemical feedstocks and the transition to a circular carbon economy will involve a major transition away from gas phase reactions of volatile hydrocarbons towards condensed phase reactions of non-volatile and poorly soluble biomass and post-consumer plastics. At the same time, highly distributed carbon resources and energy will require processing strategies for which our highly integrated chemical plants are not well-suited. Solvent effects arising from covalent and non-covalent interactions alter behaviours at solid surfaces and in porous catalytic materials, where interactions are strongly influenced by partitioning of molecules between the bulk liquid phase and the surface or pore volume. Nanoscale structuring of solvent molecules near these surfaces alters mobility and promotes or prevents adsorption of reactive molecules near active sites. This talk will describe the challenges and scientific opportunities in describing and controlling effects at the molecular level by probing the molecular composition at solid-liquid interfaces, while simultaneously observing the kinetics of catalytic reactions that transform energy-rich carbon-based molecules.

Dr Susannah Scott, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Dr Susannah Scott, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

14:00-14:15 Discussion
14:15-14:45 Heterogeneous catalysis as enabler of circular economy

The guidelines of sustainable development require a transformation of today's linear chemical industry with the aim of closed carbon cycles. In this process, renewable energy can be used as an energy/heating source and to provide chemical redox equivalents, eg in the form of hydrogen or electrons. Catalysts are essential to enable selective chemo-, bio-, or even electrocatalytic reactions under the dynamic supply of resources. As carbon sources, fossil raw materials must be used as carbon efficiently as possible in a transition phase and consistently replaced by renewable carbon sources such as CO2 and biomass, as well as recycling streams, eg in the form of plastics. Catalysts enable raw materials that are highly diverse in functionality and reactivity to be selectively converted and efficient value chains to be developed aiming to realize overall energy-efficient carbon cycles. In particular, chemical energy storage molecules that allow transport and storage of renewable energy will gain importance and strengthen the coupling of the chemical and energy sectors. Herein, novel concepts in catalyst design will be discussed focusing on solid molecular catalysts for CO2 activation, novel biomass transformations and the contribution of catalysis in life cycle assessment as well as the future role of a potentially electrified (bio)refinery. 

Professor Regina Palkovits, RWTH Aachen University, Germany

Professor Regina Palkovits, RWTH Aachen University, Germany

14:45-15:00 Discussion
15:00-15:30 Break
15:30-16:00 Syngas: the gateway to sustainable fuels and chemicals

The chemicals industry is the third largest contributor to the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Finding ways to decarbonise (reduce emissions from) the production of chemicals is essential for a more sustainable future. Short-term, decarbonisation can be achieved by improving process efficiency and retrofitting existing plants with carbon capture technology. But longer-term, the industry needs to transition away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable feedstocks. The catalytic transformation of synthesis gas or ‘syngas’ ( a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide) has a key role to play. It is the gateway to transforming electrolytic hydrogen, biomass, waste and captured carbon dioxide into the chemicals and fuels on which the world relies. 

Dr Elizabeth Rowsell, Johnson Matthey, UK

Dr Elizabeth Rowsell, Johnson Matthey, UK

16:00-16:15 Discussion
16:15-18:00 Poster flash talks followed by Poster session
Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS, Cardiff University, UK

Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS, Cardiff University, UK

Chair

Professor Matthew Davidson, University of Bath, UK

09:00-09:30 'Fire and Ice.' Hydrogen and carbon dioxide as building blocks for fuels and chemicals

World-wide deployment of technologies to generate electricity from renewable sources enables new catalytic pathways to produce fuels and chemicals from non-fossil raw materials (“power-to-X”).[1] Hydrogen produced from electrolysis provides a molecular pivot between “decarbonised” electricity and “defossilised” energy carriers and products. The present talk will provide insight into challenges and opportunities resulting from this concept and discuss recent advances from our own research on catalytic processes using H2 for the conversion CO2 and biomass-derived substrates.

[1] Zimmerman, J B; Anastas, P T; Erythropel, H C; Leitner, W; Science 2020, 367, 397-400.

Professor Dr Walter Leitner, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion, Germany

Professor Dr Walter Leitner, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion, Germany

09:30-09:45 Discussion
09:45-10:15 Why we need non-fossil carbon for the chemical industry: The hidden footprint of consumer goods

In 2020, Unilever launched its Clean Future strategy, which aims to deliver superior products that meet the needs of everyday consumers in a sustainable and affordable way with a commitment to reach NetZero by 2039. Unilever’s total extrapolated greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint for year ending June 2022 was estimated at 56 million tonnes per year. Most of this footprint sits in scope 3 emissions and is largely driven by the upstream footprint of the millions of tonnes of materials we use. In business groups dependent on fossil-based carbon, the footprint also originates from the fate of these materials – which in the environment are designed to biodegrade but in doing so generate carbon emissions – the hidden footprint.

In this talk, the author will explore why ingredients are such an important contributor to Unilever’s and others’ GHG footprint and why green renewable carbon-based solutions are crucial to address the footprint of consumer products, the ways they can do this, and the challenges involved in doing this at scale.

Dr Ian Howell, Unilever, UK

Dr Ian Howell, Unilever, UK

10:15-10:30 Discussion
10:30-11:00 Break
11:00-11:30 Electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide for a circular chemical economy

Electrocatalytic carbon dioxide reduction provides a way to generate useful carbon fuels and feedstocks from a waste stream. Historically there has been a strong focus on the use of metal electrodes for carbon dioxide reduction, often Au, Ag and Cu. These have achieved impressive selectivity’s and current densities but they tend to work only when the local pH is high. This gives rise to an issue; it is well understood that the reaction of carbon dioxide with hydroxide lowers the available carbon dioxide for conversion and can cause substantial purification costs. Here Professor Alex Cowan will discuss this challenge and their recent work developing catalysts and electrodes that can operate in acidic environments conditions where conventional metal electrodes produce mainly hydrogen. The author will describe the use of acid tolerant molecular electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction, discussing the pathway of development from small molecules in solution to their application on gas diffusion electrodes in complete electrolysers. By operating in acid Professor Cowan and a group of researchers have managed to achieve high single pass conversion efficiencies for the production of CO and their most recent works exploring the application of these electrolysers to real world gas streams will also be discussed.

Professor Alex Cowan, University of Liverpool, UK

Professor Alex Cowan, University of Liverpool, UK

11:30-10:45 Discussion
11:45-12:15 Mechanistic studies as a tool for steering thermo-catalytic CO2 hydrogenation selectivity

CO2 has potential as carbon source of fuels and consumer goods with properties and infrastructure needs analogous to those of current fossil carbon-based products. While reaction with H2 lifts CO2 out of its thermodynamic well, product selectivity is a challenge, with methane being thermodynamically more stable than value-added products such as methanol, dimethyl ether and C2+ hydrocarbons. Recent studies of model catalysts based on well-defined metal-organic frameworks have revealed details of site-specific selectivity towards methane, CO and methanol formation, and give hints to future design of more conventional heterogeneous catalysts. This lecture will contain examples from the presenter’s own research as well as literature, and expand into formation of C2+ products over tandem catalysts.

Professor Unni Olsbye, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Unni Olsbye, University of Oslo, Norway

12:15-12:30 Discussion

Chair

Professor Matthew Rosseinsky FRS, University of Liverpool, UK

13:30-14:00 Green ammonia for the decarbonisation of the chemical industry

Ammonia is the second largest globally produced chemical (~ 240 million tons/year), mainly used as fertiliser, feeding over 50% of the World’s population. Currently, (brown/grey) ammonia is produced through the Haber Bosch process using fossil fuels as a source of energy and feedstock, responsible of ~ 1.8% global CO2 emissions (~ 40% of the primary chemical industry). 

The replacement of brown/grey ammonia by green ammonia, made exclusively using renewable energy, hydrogen from water and nitrogen from air, can fully decarbonise this industry. To achieve this ambition, green ammonia requires new process technologies and optimisation approaches to move away from the continuous energy supply offered by fossil fuels to the intermittent and distributed nature of renewable energy. Herein, we will present our efforts to re-define the conventional Haber-Bosch process of making ammonia by integrating its synthesis and separation into a single vessel in a new process designed to be paired with renewable energy, in combination with novel heat integration strategies and techno-economic analysis.

In addition, the high energy density, ease to store and existing infrastructure of ammonia makes it a perfect carbon-free energy carrier, having the potential to directly replace fossil fuels in transportation, heating, electricity, etc. Green ammonia is indeed an opportunity for the chemical industry to contribute to the decarbonisation of the society.

Professor Laura Torrente

Professor Laura Torrente

University of Cambridge

14:00-14:15 Discussion
14:15-14:45 Catalytic approaches to cleaning

The conversion of chemicals to useful cleaning agents using light and photocatalysts presents a green alternative to traditional, thermal catalysis pathways and is showing great promise in disinfection and chemical remediation of wastewater streams. Dr Jennifer Edwards and a group of scientists have investigated how graphitic carbon nitrides can be used to produce H2O2 (a potent biocide) from water and air, without the need for molecular H2. A further use for these photocatalysts ties closely with improving population health by reducing infection spread. On exposure to water, air and sunlight photocatalysts will generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) that have high oxidising potentials. These ROS can be used in a range of innovative cleaning applications-reducing viral and bacterial loads on surfaces, fabrics and in water. This talk will summarise the researchers' advances in creating new solutions for disinfection and cleaning, using just sunlight air and water. 

Dr Jennifer Edwards, Cardiff University, UK

Dr Jennifer Edwards, Cardiff University, UK

14:45-15:00 Discussion
15:00-15:30 Break
15:30-16:00 The polymers in liquid formulations revolution: developing a mission-led innovation ecosystem for sustainable PLFs

Found in millions of consumers and industrial products, and comprising hundreds of types of polymers, polymers in liquid formulations (PLFs) are used in everything from Household care products to treating the water we drink. Unfortunately, the way that they are currently made, used and disposed of is not sustainable. Finding ways to replace fossil feedstocks, reuse and recycle PLFs is an important first step towards sustainability for PLFs. The Royal Society of Chemistry convened a cross sectorial Industry Sustainable PLFs Task Force which took a mission-oriented innovation approach to developing the roadmap for Sustainable PLFs. This methodology has been developed to co-design collaborative; dynamic innovation programmes orientated toward global challenges at a scale beyond what single industry players can address alone. Finally, bringing researchers and policymakers together has the potential to create opportunity to act decisively to deliver sustainability improvements for PLFs.

Professor Anju Massey-Brooker FRSC, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK

Professor Anju Massey-Brooker FRSC, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK

Professor Rowan Conway, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, UK

Professor Rowan Conway, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, UK

16:00-16:15 Discussion
16:15-17:00 Panel discussion/Overview
Professor Paul Monks, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, UK

Professor Paul Monks, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, UK

Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS, Cardiff University, UK

Professor Graham Hutchings CBE FRS, Cardiff University, UK

Professor Richard Catlow FRS, University College London, UK

Professor Richard Catlow FRS, University College London, UK

Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Charlotte Williams, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Matthew Davidson, University of Bath, UK

Professor Matthew Davidson, University of Bath, UK

Professor Matthew Rosseinsky FRS, University of Liverpool, UK

Professor Matthew Rosseinsky FRS, University of Liverpool, UK