NORMAN, OKLA. – Funded by the Department of Energy, a theoretical study led by Bin Wang, 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 used 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 combining ethylene, the most common industrial chemical, with propene.
“If you can replace propene with CO2, there are two advantages,” said Wang. “First, there is currently an industrial shortage of propene which has made the cost increase. Second, if you can use CO2 as feedstock, it provides an opportunity to make CO2 more valuable.”
Researchers have been investigating alternatives to propene for more than four decades to try to find a more durable solution to making acrylic acid.
“Over the last 40 years, catalysts were what we call homogenous, so essentially the catalysis that binds the separate elements together will dissolve into a liquid organic solvent,” Wang said. “What we tried to do in this particular proposal, is to develop something we call heterogeneous, in which the catalysis can be recycled easily. This is something that hasn’t been done at all 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 dissolves 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.