Greater integration of global activities on the utilization of CO2

25/11/2011

In the view of international experts, more effort should be put into integrating the great variety of global initiatives for using carbon dioxide as a chemical feedstock. That was the gist of a symposium held at RWTH Aachen University on Thursday, at which scientists from all over the world met with representatives from industry and politics to discuss opportunities and challenges arising from the utilization of CO2. Against the backdrop of climate change and a shortage of resources, this topic is gaining importance all the time.

 

“Making use of carbon dioxide as a chemical feedstock is an important and highly promising field of international research,” said Prof. Walter Leitner, Professor of Technical Chemistry and a member of the Strategic Council at RWTH Aachen University. “If we want to continue our successful efforts in this direction, there must be closer collaboration between experts at all levels. As an integrated interdisciplinary university, RWTH Aachen is ideally positioned to tackle this challenge.”

Triad of research, industry and politics

Some 70 experts attended the symposium, including scientists from France, Italy and the United States, as well as representatives from the European Commission and Federal German ministries. The conference was held at the University's CAT Catalytic Center and was entitled “Innovation in large-volume CO2 recycling with sustainable energy sources: Science, politics and business opportunities”.

Gabriele Centi, Professor of Technical Chemistry at the University of Messina, pointed out that we are still a long way from identifying all the targets for utilizing CO2. This could only be done if different branches of industry and technical disciplines work more closely together. “Only then can CO2's potential as a raw material be fully exploited. At the moment we still have some way to go, but it will be well worth the effort,” he said.

“The German Federal Ministry of Research and Education is substantially funding projects on CO2 utilization with 100 Mio. € in a research call as part of its High-Tech strategy”, Lothar Mennicken of BMBF pointed out, “This has greatly stimulated research on this topic and fostered Germany’s scientific and technological position in this important area”. On this occasion he handed out a notice of approval for a further publicly funded project CO2 research project to the RWTH – Bayer – RWE consortium.

“To obtain sustainable results, we need more intensive interdisciplinary cooperation. a higher level of exchange between academia and industry, and greater concentration on application-oriented research,” said Dr. Mario Tobias, General Secretary of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam. “The interfaces between academia, industry and the general public have not yet been sufficiently defined. In this respect, we have some urgent catching-up to do.”

Successful joint project

As an example of successful cooperation, the experts referred among other things to the “Dream Production” project, which involves, alongside RWTH Aachen University and the CAT Catalytic Center, the chemical company Bayer and the energy provider RWE. The initiative is targeted at producing high-quality plastics with the aid of carbon dioxide. The CO2 will replace part of the oil needed to provide the essential element carbon. The project is supported with funds from the Federal German government.

Dr. Alexis Bazzanella of DECHEMA (German Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology e.V.) emphasized the importance of such projects, “Suitable centralized support programs such as the German government's high-tech strategy make an important contribution in helping initiatives for the utilization of CO2 to make a breakthrough.“

Prof. Walter Leitner also underlined the importance of working with the right partners. “Here, the CAT Catalytic Center can also provide a very valuable service. After all, the Chinese characters for 'catalysis' also mean 'marriage broker'!”