Skip to content

Overview

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 will focus 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  

To view the programme, please scroll down and select the day on the left-hand side. Click the arrows to view the speakers and talks. 

Attending this event

This event is intended for researchers in relevant fields.

  • Free to attend
  • Both in-person and online attendance available
  • Advance registration is essential. Please register via Eventbrite
  • Lunch is available on both days of the meeting for an optional £25 per day. There are plenty of places to eat nearby if you would prefer to purchase food offsite. Participants are welcome to bring their own lunch to the meeting. 

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team.

Image credit: iStockphoto / hh5800

Organisers

Schedule


Chair

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

Abstract

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. 

Speakers

09:30-09:45
Discussion
09:45-10:15
From Linear to Circular – will this make industry more sustainable and can LCA help?

Abstract

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?

Speakers

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

Abstract

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 our lab that will unpack this exciting process in more detail.

Speakers

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

12:15-12:30
Discussion

Chair

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

14:00-14:15
Discussion
14:15-14:45
Heterogeneous Catalysis as Enabler of Circular Economy

Abstract

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. 

Speakers

14:45-15:00
Discussion
15:00-15:30
Break
15:30-16:00
Title of the talk will be available soon.
16:00-16:15
Discussion
16:30-18:00
Poster session

Chair

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

11:30-10:45
Discussion
11:45-12:15
Title of the talk will be available soon.

Abstract

Abstract of the talk will be available soon. 

Speakers

12:15-12:30
Discussion

Chair

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

Professor Laura Torrente

University of Cambridge

14:00-14:15
Discussion
14:15-14:45
Catalytic Approaches to Cleaning

Abstract

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. 

Speakers

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

Abstract

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.

Speakers

16:00-16:15
Discussion
16:15-17:00
Panel discussion/Overview

Speakers