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CO2 could replace fossil fuels in industry

Researchers at Aarhus University are developing new chemical technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and support the green transition in both public and private manufacturing companies.

2019.06.13 | Dorthe Lundh

Nina Lock and Troels Skrydstrup wearing white lab coats and safety glasses are writing formulas on a pane of glass in a laboratory.

Nina Lock and Troels Skrydstrup conduct research in two different research groups, but they work together on a joint endeavour: to develop sustainable catalysts that can convert CO2 into valuable resources. Photo: Dorthe Lundh

Industrial buildings in silhouette with chimneys emitting flue gasses into the air.

In Nina Lock's research group, the aim is to be able to capture a flue gas mixture from a chimney, drive it straight into a major facility, and convert some of the CO2 into valuable building blocks that can be reused by industry. Photo: Colourbox

 

Researchers at Aarhus University are working hard to generate new knowledge and develop sustainable technology to help create a greener future for business and industry and for society at large. In a new podcast series (in Danish), you will meet researchers who think out of the box and collaborate with each other and with the business community to find solutions to the world’s major challenges. 

It is a widespread perception that CO2 is a man-made waste product responsible for the current climate changes.

But if you ask Nina Lock, associate professor in chemistry at the Department of Engineering at Aarhus University, how she sees CO2, you get a more nuanced answer:

"I agree that CO2 is a waste product, but I also consider it a resource that we should learn to exploit much better than we do today."

 

Nina Lock heads one of the research groups at Aarhus University currently conducting research into new chemical technologies that can exploit and reduce CO2.

Valuable building blocks

Based on different approaches to chemical research, each of the research groups focuses on finding sustainable substitutes for the chemical catalysts used by industry. Currently, industry relies on fossil fuels to provide plastic products, agrochemicals, clothing and medicine to consumers.

In the laboratory at Katrinebjerg in Aarhus, Nina Lock’s group is investigating how to make chemical catalysts that can convert CO2. This will enable industry to reuse components of what is currently referred to as waste products and help ensure that production is based on green technology.

"At the moment, other researchers at the Department of Engineering are building a reactor to test whether some of the results we’ve observed on a small scale in the lab are the same on a larger scale. Because if our technology is to be useful for industrial purposes, volume is of course an important factor," says Research Director Nina Lock, who goes on to describe one of her ambitions within CO2 research:

 

“Our aim is to be able to capture a flue gas mixture from a chimney, drive it straight into a major facility, and thereby transform some of the CO2 into valuable building blocks that can be reused by industry.”

Three research groups

The process of transforming CO2 into new building blocks is both complex and energy-intensive because CO2 is a very stable chemical substance. Refined catalysts are required for this purpose. Consequently, the cross-disciplinary research collaboration at Aarhus University to reduce CO2 plays a very important role in the green transition. This is the assessment of Troels Skrydstrup, professor at the Department of Chemistry and the interdisciplinary iNANO centre at Aarhus University. 

 

"At the moment, three groups at Aarhus University are doing research into sustainable catalysts, and there is no doubt that our competences complement each other so that, ultimately, we will develop more complex catalysts that are more active in converting CO2," he says.

Sustainable energy sources

Nina Lock's research focuses on sustainability at several levels. Not only does she have an ambition to collaborate with the other research groups at Aarhus University to develop catalysts that exploit CO2 resources; she also finds it crucial that the catalysts themselves are sustainable.

"Catalysts are often based on one or more metals extracted from minerals. Some of these minerals have a low natural occurrence. Our goal is to exploit elements of a high natural occurrence. The EU has compiled lists of critical raw materials, and in the long term, we want to avoid using these materials,” says Nina Lock.

Researchers at Aarhus University also have a sustainable approach when it comes to energy sources that are used to activate the catalytic material. At present, industry typically uses heat to drive the chemical process required for production. Generating this heat requires energy. But in their research, Nina Lock and her colleagues focus on replacing heat by renewable energy sources such as sunlight and excess electricity from wind turbines.

 

"In the lab, we use LED light, for example, to drive the chemical processes. When scaling up our investigations in the next phase, we'll also look into how the catalysts work in sunlight, so that ultimately, our results can be implemented in a sustainable industrial process," explains Nina Lock.

Collaboration with Danish businesses

Nina Lock and the other catalysis researchers at Aarhus University collaborate with both public and private businesses from several different sectors.

"It's crucial for us to have partners outside the university, both in relation to designing new catalysts, but also to ensure that businesses will actually buy our technology once it has been fully developed," says Nina Lock.

Sustainable catalysts can contribute to the green transition; however, Nina Lock emphasises that investments are required both at national and global level to implement this transition and that Danish businesses are willing to take the lead.

According to Troels Skrydstrup, there is a clear incentive to support the development of the chemical technologies:

 

"We depend on sustainable processes to maintain our standard of living when the world runs out of fossil fuels at some point in the future."  

 


Kontakt

Associate Professor Nina Lock
Department of Engineering – Hybrid Materials Lab
Aarhus University
Mail nlock@eng.au.dk
Mobile +45 9352 1816

Professor Troels Skrydstrup
Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center - iNANO/Chemistry
Aarhus University
Mail ts@chem.au.dk
Mobile  +45 2899 2132

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