MefCO2 interview with Cardiff University Principal Investigator, Michael Bower and Post-Doctoral Research Assistant, James Haywards

1) What is the role of CCI within the MefCO2 project?

Michael Bowker (MB): Its role is to synthesise catalysts of varying type and composition. These then need to be carefully analysed by a variety of the top level techniques in order to determine morphology, how ‘nano’ they are (that is, how small are the particles we have made?). They are usually in the 1 – 50 nm range.

What is their chemical composition – does it vary from that pre-determined by the synthesis method? Usually Cu/ZnO/AI2O3, but also with a range of other additives. Usually they are close to the pre-determine composition, but not always, depending on synthesis method.

Is their crystalline structure of the correct, or a new, type? Correct, but with variations on nanosize and sometimes of structure.

2) How do you think society can benefit from a project like this?

James Hayward (JH): The rising amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere are a global concern, and MefCO2 represents an important step towards fixing that. Methanol is a highly important feedstock chemical, and has applications as a fuel. As such, being able to reduce its carbon impact by the synthesis of ‘green’ methanol could have a significant impact on the global carbon economy.

3) What can you tell us about the catalysts you and your team have characterised and tested?

MB: We have now made and tested over 100 catalysts. Most of them are based on CZA type material – that is, Copper, Zinc oxide and Alumina – but utilising very different preparation methods in many cases, and with a range of different formulations

4) You are behind the only patent derived from the project, what can you tell us about it?

JH: The standard methanol synthesis catalyst is derived from a mineral precursor phase known as malachite, and its activity towards methanol synthesis is determined by the amount of copper surface area available. This, in turn, is linked to the size of the copper nanoparticles. We were looking into alternative mineral precursors, and found that hydrotalcites generally had smaller copper particles.

However, this material forms into sheets that clump together, lowering the overall surface area. Think of it like a ream of paper all in a pile. Our patent relates to preventing the sheets from sticking together, meaning that we can access the full surface area of every sheet.

5) What are your plans towards the potential commercialisation of the pending patent?

MB: We are in discussions with a catalyst manufacturer to test this material and take it further down the road to commercialization. Commercial manufacture is done at the 10s-100s of tonne scale, whereas we have normally made batches of ~ 5g.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement
No 637016.

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