Catalytic Activation of Carbon Dioxide to make Polymers and Fuels

This lecture will provide an overview of research in the Williams group into new catalyst development both for synthesis of polymers and for fuels, such as methanol.1 CO2 is a famously recalcitrant molecule and very difficult to efficiently transform into useful materials. The opportunity is to discover how to use CO2 as a raw material both to make chemicals, thereby reducing pollution associated with conventional petrochemical routes, and to use it as an energy vector. This lecture will provide a general introduction to these two topic and will provide detail on the context, chemistry, life cycle analysis, energy opportunities and potential for integration with other industries. It will also seek to inform on the product application areas for the polymers.

The lecture will describe a series of new homogeneous catalysts for the polymerization of carbon dioxide and epoxides which operate in the low pressure regime: at 1 bar CO2 pressure.2 In particular, it will emphasise the importance of polymerization kinetics and structure-activity studies in developing more active catalysts.3 The lecture will highlight the development and industrial application of polycarbonates and polyols prepared from carbon dioxide. In the second part, research into new nanoparticle catalysts comprising ZnO and Cu for the hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to methanol will be described.4 It will describe the potential to exploit organometallic reagents and intermediates to prepare ultra-small colloidal nanoparticles, as well as new well-defined metal-hydroxyl clusters and 2-D layered materials. The opportunity to couple CO2 recycling with energy storage in the form of methanol will be discussed and areas for future research identified.