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The University of Southampton

Researchers convert carbon dioxide emissions into useful chemicals using electrochemistry

Published: 19 March 2020
Dr Sam Perry
Dr Sam Perry is investigating polymer coatings for the carbon dioxide reduction catalysts

An international collaboration including electrochemical scientists at the University of Southampton is advancing a novel green technology that converts carbon dioxide into useful materials like ethylene.

Southampton Research Fellow Dr Sam Perry presented the work to Members of the Houses of Parliament last week at the STEM for Britain exhibition.

The emerging technology could hold the key to meeting carbon dioxide reduction targets by capturing and converting emissions from industrial sites and supplementing intermittent green energy sources at off-peak times.

STEM for Britain raises the profile of Britain’s early-stage researchers through a poster competition and prizes held at Westminster’s Portcullis House, with categories covering biosciences, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and physics.

“My research is looking into new ways of converting carbon dioxide into useful materials which normally come from fossil fuels,” Sam says. “We are also working on a combination reactor that can produce two useful products at once, ethylene in one chamber and hydrogen peroxide in the other, so we can be doubly energy efficient. It’s still early days, but we hope that this technology could be a sizeable help in meeting the Government’s net-zero carbon targets.”

Scientists have demonstrated that carbon dioxide can be converted into ethylene electrochemically using new copper catalysts. Oxidising water to hydrogen peroxide in the same reactor can then lead to the production of ethylene oxide, a vital chemical in plastic and biofuel manufacture.

Capturing carbon dioxide from industrial sites would serve the dual purpose of generating green fuels while preventing the gas being released into the atmosphere.

A second potential application would then work alongside green energy sources, like solar or wind, to use excess energy at peak production times to create bio-fuels. These fuels could then supplement energy supplies at off-peak times.

Sam is currently exploring polymer coatings for the carbon dioxide reduction catalysts. The latest findings have shown that certain coatings can enhance the activity of catalysts towards ethylene.

The research, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, includes project partners from national Centre of Advanced Tribology at Southampton (nCATS), the University of Edinburgh, McGill University in Quebec, Canada, and Schaeffler Technologies.

Sam was one of eight promising Southampton researchers to exhibit at STEM for Britain 2020. Cristina Argudin Violante represented the School of Biological Sciences, Fatumah Atuhaire and Isobel Webster exhibited in mathematics, Krzysztof Herdzik was selected in Physics, and Ben Fletcher, Elaine Ho and Maria Ramos-Suarez all featured in the Engineering category.

“There were presentations from every conceivable angle of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and there was genuine interest in all of the topics,” Sam says. “The exhibition was really well attended by MPs from all over the country, which shows the Government is paying close attention to the latest research.”

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