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CO2 only

CO2 as only source of carbons for monomers and polymers: a step forwards circular economy


Action Line: South

Start date: 5th June 2019

Duration: 36 months

Main ERC field: PE – Physical Sciences and Engineering


In view of a circular economy strongly oriented on the use of renewable energy (RE) and on the sequestration and reuse of carbon dioxide, the main objective of the project is to outline and develop new scientific and technological routes no longer dependent on fossil energy sources.

Among the various research strategies aimed at encouraging the recycling of CO2 and the use of renewable sources, currently the development of innovative processes for the sustainable production of polymers represents a great challenge from a technological, environmental and economic point of view, since the polymers are a major volume chemical.

The CO2 ONLY project will thus develop novel routes of synthesis of monomers for polymerization: i) based only on CO2 as carbon source; ii) utilizing RE to provide the energy for the conversion.

The project investigates two routes to form CO2-only monomers:

LINE 1 – the synthesis of light olefins from CO2 (and renewable H2) via CH3OH intermediate;

LINE 2 – the challenging route of electrocatalytic synthesis of C2 glycol from CO2 and its further reaction with CO2 to form ethylene carbonate.

An experienced, highly competent team, with all units located in the south of Italy, will address the above challenging objectives. It comprises two pioneering research group on the use of CO2 (UniME – S. Perathoner; UniBA – A. Dibenedetto), together with internationally recognized groups on CO2 to methanol (CNR-ITAE; local coordination by <40 year old researcher – G. Bonura) and on methanol to olefins (UniCAL – G. Giordano) and one of the pioneering groups in Italy on the synthesis and properties of polycarbonate polymers (UniSA – A. Grassi).

CO2 ONLY project addresses a frontier research area in Europe, balancing the approach between a route (line 1) for which the proof-of-the-concept (PoC) exists, but still requiring R&D for its industrialization, and a completely new (high risk/high gain) route (line 2) which may open new industrial possibilities, but requiring still to develop the PoC.

The background motivation is to create a team working on the topics with the largest interest in the perspective of further support at EU (H2020) and/or industrial levels.

While the focus of the first line (CNR-ITAE and UniCAL) will be on the knowledge-based development of improved catalysts and optimization of the reaction conditions in flow reactor tests, the second line (UniME and UniBA) will explore new methodologies in combination with new catalysts. UniME will explore the electro-catalytic synthesis of oxalic acid from CO2, either directly or via formate formation, and then the selective hydrogenation (catalytic or electro-assisted with in-situ H2 generation) of oxalic acid to ethylene glycol. UniBA will investigate the catalytic reaction of CO2 with ethylene glycol in the presence of membranes and other engineering solutions to shift equilibrium to practically relevant values. UniSA will instead focus their activities on the synthesis of the metal catalysts and their screening in polymerization of ethylene carbonate and copolymerization with bio-sourced monomers.

flow diagram


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