17-11-2013

Big step taken by a catalan research group improves the control of CO2

It’s well known that research in our country has a significant potential in a wide diversity of scientific subjects. Plan for Research and Innovation of the Government of Catalonia establishes five strategic lines of research:

• The biomedical and health sciences

• Research in ICT engineering

• Research in science and food technology

• Research in social and cultural development

• Research in sustainability and environment.

Numerous research groups born around universities, institutes, foundations, and scientific parks attract foreign talent. At the same time, they’re also achieving some remarkable success in all these subjects.

The Tarragona Science and Technology Park brings together the innovation activities of the chemical and energy sectors. It hosts the Catalan Institute of Chemical Research (ICIQ), who works next to some companies in three points: the catalysis process in chemical health and sustainability; supramolecular chemistry: nanoscience and new materials, and renewable energies: solar energy and hydrogen production.

Atsushi Urakawa was born in Fukuoka (Japan). He obtained his BSc degree  in Applied Chemistry at Kyushu University (Fukuoka) including one year stay in the USA. Afterwards, he continued his education in Chemical Engineering at the Delft University of Technology (Delft, The Netherlands) for his MSc study (2001) and further at the ETH Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland) for his PhD study (2006 with distinction). In 2006, he undertook a position as an Oberassistent (senior scientist/lecturer) in the group of Prof. Alfons Baiker at the ETH Zurich. In January 2010, he joined the ICIQ as a group leader where he leads a research group with particular emphasis on the development of in situ/operando spectroscopic tools and on the rational design of heterogeneous catalytic processes potentially pivotal for solving environmental and energy-related problems. In july 2010, the group joined Atul Bansode, a graduate from the University of Pune India). He is a doctoral student of the institute working in particular on the development of catalytic processes for conversion of CO2 using microreactors

On the issue January 2014 of “Journal of Catalysis” (i f 6249 ) (now it is online) the have published their work about an efficient method (95%) converting CO2 into methanol in one step. From the autors in their paper: “The global warming, mainly sourced from the human induced emission of CO2, is one of the major environmental threats we are facing in the 21st century. In the past few decades, there has been growing scientific consensus to devise the strategy for CO2 capture, fixation, and recycling technologies to level off the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Nature has its own CO2 fixation process which is extraordinarily selective in converting CO2 into organic compounds. However, natural chemical transformation of CO2 is not simply fast enough to cope with the increasing CO2 emission rate of the industrialized world. Chemical transformation of CO2 is not only about mitigating the global warming; rather it is about recycling of the carbon, irreversibly relocated in the form of CO2 from the ground by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. In the light of the finite availability of fossil fuels, the production of commercially valuable chemicals and fuels from CO2 is a promising strategy to simultaneously tackle the two major problems of the century, namely the global warming and fossil fuel depletion, for sustainable development. Methanol It is an excellent fuel and a key starting material of the important industrial reactions. The use of methanol in fuel cells directly or indirectly as the source of hydrogen by a reforming reaction is well documented”

In the paper, authors report an exceptionally productive process for the synthesis of methanol via continuous catalytic hydrogenation of CO2 under high-pressure conditions over co-precipitated Cu/ZnO/Al2O3 catalysts. The effluent stream of methanol can be directly fed to a reactor containing a catalyst for selective production of alkane or alkene.

The Catalan Institute has already submitted an application for a patent and has offered the method to the industry for the development and commercialization of new process through licensing agreements or joint development projects.

This is just one example of the Catalan Government policies to attract talent to our research system. Therefore in a future Independent country of Catalonia, we should take that into account in order to have a significant role in a scientific global scene.

Elena Escubedo (Universitat de Barcelona)

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