Funded by the Department of Energy, a theoretical study led by Bin Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering in the Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, is modeling how carbon dioxide could be combined with ethylene, the most common industrial chemical, to make acrylic acid, a common component of many household industrial products.
Acrylic acid is used to make disposable diapers, clothing, plastics, and many other consumer applications. It is currently produced by oxidation of propene, a gaseous product of oil refineries.
“If you can replace propene and find alternate ways to make acrylic acid using CO2 as feedstock, there are two advantages,” said Wang. “It provides an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas and make CO2 more valuable.”
Researchers have been investigating this alternate approach for more than four decades to try to find a more durable solution to making acrylic acid.
“Over the last 40 years, homogenous catalysis – where the catalysts and the reactants are both dissolved in the same liquid phase – were explored for this reaction but with little success,” Wang said. “What we tried to do in this proposal is to develop a heterogeneous catalysis process, in which the catalysts can be engineered with diverse functionality and can be recovered easily. This is something that hasn’t been done for this reaction in the literature.”
Wang said they will apply quantum mechanical calculations to clarify step by step how carbon dioxide and ethylene couple and how the final product forms to better understand the process and to inform future experimental tests using carbon dioxide as a replacement feedstock.
The three-year project, “Computational Design of Heterogeneous Catalysts for Coupling CO2 and Ethylene to Manufacture Acrylic Acid Derivatives,” is funded by a $677,925 award from the Department of Energy through the Chemical and Materials Sciences to Advance Clean Energy Technologies and Low-Carbon Manufacturing funding opportunity. This funding is part of a $540 million DOE initiative to “Reduce Climate Impacts of Energy Technologies and Manufacturing.”