New catalyst twice as selective, could make chemical production cleaner and cheaper

An estimated 18 million tonnes of acetic acid are produced annually around the world for industrial applications like making paints, adhesives and coatings. Now, researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) have demonstrated a new electrically powered catalyst that is twice as efficient as baseline materials at producing acetic acid. Their research has the added bonus of having a much smaller carbon footprint.

Catalysts are used to help convert raw materials into usable products, but the raw materials used to make acetic acid today are fossil fuel-based, meaning production can have negative environmental impacts. Here, the only inputs are CO2-derived CO, water and renewable electricity.

“In this project, I identified a strategy to design catalysts that might be extremely selective to a single chemical, meaning they produce more of the chemical you want, in this case acetic acid, and much less of the by-product chemicals you don’t want,” says Joshua Wicks, a doctoral student in Professor Edward Sargent’s research group at UofT.

“In our lab, we are very interested in the decarbonization of chemicals production and we’re always searching for promising opportunities to apply electrochemistry in this hard-to-decarbonize sector of the economy.”

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image : Panos Papangelakis setting up in-situ XAS experiments