Green energy can help make chemical production greener, safer and more decentralised.
For a group of researchers headed by chemists based at the University of Copenhagen, green energy can help make chemical production greener, safer and more decentralised.
What’s the problem?
Most chemically derived products, from sneakers to headache remedies, are produced with oil or natural gas precursors. This means that many intermediate products are either toxic or explosive. Production occurs through what is known as heterogeneous catalysis, a process that typically requires high pressure and high temperatures. As a result, most chemical manufacturing processes tend to be carried out at large chemical plants.
What’s the solution?
The scientists behind the research project ProActivE propose an alternative way: If electrochemical processes are used instead, more benign precursors can be employed. Instead of building enormous chemical plants, production can be decentralised. Instead of having to store large quantities of chemicals, the production of chemicals can be undertaken where needed, as needed.
This approach is an entirely new way of thinking about chemical production, which can make an enormous difference for developing countries in particular.
In fact, there is no alternative to these methods in the long run. Besides the risk of explosions and toxic byproducts, oil is a limited resource for which we must discover alternatives. And if the project succeeds, the vast quantities of oil used today for chemical production can be replaced.