Vinegar a potential ingredient in climate crisis fight – Monash engineers

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Chemical engineers at Monash University have developed an industrial process for producing acetic acid that utilises surplus carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and has the potential to produce negative carbon emissions.

From an environmental perspective, researchers said the technique offers an opportunity to significantly improve current manufacturing processes that pollute the environment. 

The new procedure will be more efficient and cost-effective from an industrial standpoint, the scientists said in a news release. 

Furthermore, the world-first study, published in Nature Communications, demonstrates that acetic acid may be produced from collected CO2 using a low-cost solid catalyst that can replace the present liquid rhodium or iridium-based catalysts.

Liquid catalysts require additional separation and purification processes, and using a solid catalyst made from a production method that does not require further processing also reduces emissions.

Associate Professor Akshat Tanksale, the study’s principal investigator, said the research may become a common practice in business. 

“CO2 is over abundant in the atmosphere, and the main cause of global warming and climate change. Even if we stopped all the industrial emissions today, we would continue to see negative impacts of global warming for at least a thousand years as nature slowly balances the excess CO2,” Associate Professor Tanksale said.

The lead researcher also emphasised the urgent need to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into products that do not release the captured CO2 back into the atmosphere. 

“Our team is focussed on creating a novel industrially relevant method, which can be applied at the large scale required to encourage negative emissions,” noted Tanksale.

The research team initially developed a category of material known as the metal organic framework (MOF), which is a highly crystalline compound consisting of repeating units of iron atoms joined by organic bridges. 

The MOF was then heated under controlled conditions to destroy those bridges, allowing iron atoms to unite and form particles as small as a few nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a metre in size). 

Because they are enclosed in a layer of porous carbon, these iron nanoparticles are both highly reactive and stable under challenging reaction circumstances.

Researchers said this is the first time an iron-based catalyst for the production of acetic acid has been documented.  

To date, as part of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Hub for Carbon Utilisation and Recycling, the researchers are presently developing the process towards commercialisation in partnership with their industrial partners.

The research project was supported by Monash University’s Engineering Researcher Accelerator Award, an ARC Discovery Project grant and collaborators from Hokkaido University and Pennsylvania State University.