Researchers at Monash University have achieved a significant breakthrough in the production of acetic acid, a vital chemical compound used in various industries. By harnessing the excess carbon dioxide (CO2) present in the atmosphere, the new industrial process holds the potential to create negative carbon emissions.
Published in Nature Communications, this groundbreaking research introduces a cost-effective method of synthesizing acetic acid, replacing the current liquid rhodium or iridium catalysts with an economical solid catalyst. Unlike liquid catalysts, which necessitate additional purification processes, the solid catalyst developed by the chemical engineers does not require further refinement, thus reducing emissions.
Lead researcher Associate Professor Akshat Tanksale believes this innovative approach could be widely adopted in the industry. With CO2 being abundant in the atmosphere and the primary contributor to global warming and climate change, actively removing it is crucial. Even if all industrial emissions ceased today, the consequences of global warming would persist for centuries. Therefore, converting CO2 into products that do not reintroduce it into the atmosphere is imperative.
To achieve this, the research team created a metal organic framework (MOF), a highly crystalline substance consisting of iron atoms linked by organic bridges. By subjecting the MOF to controlled heating, the bridges were broken, allowing the iron atoms to form nanoparticles a few nanometers in size. These iron nanoparticles were then embedded in a porous carbon layer, resulting in highly active and stable catalysts suitable for acetic acid production. Notably, this marks the first reported use of an iron-based catalyst for synthesizing acetic acid.
The newly developed process holds promise for enhanced efficiency and cost-effectiveness from an industrial standpoint. Moreover, it offers an environmentally friendly alternative to current manufacturing processes that contribute to pollution. By addressing climate change and potentially reversing its effects, the research presents an opportunity for economic benefits through the sale of acetic acid products.
The researchers are currently collaborating with industry partners as part of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Hub for Carbon Utilization and Recycling to further develop the process for commercialization.
Source: Monash University