In the time it takes to drink a coffee, tonnes and tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere as a result of global anthropogenic activity. These transformation and energy-generation processes have resulted in an uncontrolled emission of gasses which has unbalanced a natural process that makes life on this planet possible, such as the greenhouse effect, and generated instead a global warming problem which threatens biodiversity and human activity.

With the aim of achieving a totally decarbonised economy by 2050 and despite the large efforts in emission reduction in recent years through the implementation of strategies such as the optimisation of the current industrial processes, the adoption and development of new technologies to reduce or eliminate emissions, the electrification of the most polluting sectors, the implantation and empowerment of renewable energies (solar, wind, hydraulic, thermic, biomass, etc…) or the development of new energetic vectors such as green hydrogen, the reality is that even we are still far from reversing the situation and this transition has not yet taken off.

New technological advances always come with new challenges, the use of the intermittent energy peaks from renewables being one of them. This problem has been partially resolved through the development of new high-capacity batteries. However, the high cost of this solution, combined with the shortage of the materials needed for their manufacture has led to the need to develop new materials that improve their properties and economise their production.

What does AIMPLAS provide in this field?

The Decarbonisation research group at AIMPLAS aims to develop and implement new technologies in the industrial sector which reduce or remove the polluting emissions by capturing or transforming both CO2 and other polluting gasses (methane, nitrogen oxides), in addition to developing new materials.

CO2, despite being the residual product of a large quantity of industrial processes, is a cheap and accessible carbon source that can be revalued through capture technologies (CCS) or utilisation technologies (CCU) leading to the formation of a large quantity of everyday products, such as:

One of these derivatives, the cyclical carbonates, presents a wide range of applications both as starting products in material science (polyurethane precursors) and in the pharmaceutical industry (drug precursors). Another of its key applications is its use as a solvent for electrolytes present in lithium batteries. The most used carbonates are ethylene carbonate and the propylene carbonate, although there is a wide variety of alternatives that cover a wide range of specific requirements.

These compounds are obtained through the direct conversion of CO2 in the presence of oxiranes (highly energetic molecules) in processes that take place at high pressures and temperatures. However, the use of a carefully selected and optimised catalytic system to achieve this selective transformation may help to reduce the energy bill of this problem resulting in a reduction in the energy demand of the process and an increase in the structural complexity of the obtained products.

In conclusion, we can say that new technologies aimed at reducing energy dependency on fossil fuels such as batteries require materials from CO2 for their development and exploitation, generating a situation which makes it possible to tackle this problem in two ways which involved mitigating the emissions from current industrial processes through their electrification, as well as the sequestration or reduction of these emissions, and permanent fixation as one of the components of the final product (battery).

Sergio Sopeña

Descarbonisation researcher