Apr 21, 2019 | Updated: 02:21 PM EDT

A Novel Method in Reducing the Carbon Footprint in Manufacturing Products

Apr 10, 2019 09:03 AM EDT

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Carbon Footprint
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The manufacture of plastics, iron, and steel requires large amounts of energy. In addition to being the biggest source of global energy consumption. most of these result to carbon dioxide as a byproduct. 

The synthesis of epoxides is a concern related to emissions and energy use in the manufacture of plastics, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. MIT chemical engineers have developed a method that uses electricity to run the reaction while removing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. 

"What isn't often realized is that industrial energy usage is far greater than transportation or residential usage. This is the elephant in the room, and there has been very little technical progress in terms of being able to reduce industrial energy consumption," says Karthish Manthiram, an assistant professor chemical engineering and the senior author of the new study.

The team is composed of team leader MIT postdoc Kyongsuk Jin. Other researchers include graduate students Joseph Maalouf, Nikifar Lazouski, and Nathan Corbin, and postdoc Dengtao Yang. 

Their findings were published on April 9 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. They have already filed a patent on this technique and is enhancing the synthesis efficiency for adaption on a large-scale, industrial use. 

The three-membered ring epoxide is the raw material in producing detergents, polyester, and antifreeze. "It's impossible to go for even a short period of one's life without touching or feeling or wearing something that has at some point in its history involved an epoxide. They're ubiquitous," Manthiram says. "They're in so many different places, but we tend not to think about the embedded energy and carbon dioxide footprint."

Chemicals with the top carbon footprints include a number of epoxides. Ethylene oxide, one common epoxide, produces the "fifth-largest carbon dioxide emission of any chemical product." There are many chemical steps involved in manufacturing epoxides. This process requires a large amount of energy as it needs to under pressure which is 20 times greater than atmospheric pressure and at nearly 300 degrees Celsius. 

In addition, fossil fuels are used to power this manufacturing. 

Generation of carbon dioxide as a side product also adds to the carbon footprint. Other epoxides also involve the use of the potentially explosive and hazardous peroxides as well as caustic calcium hydroxide. 

The MIT team developed a sustainable method by using electricy to separate water into oxygen, protons, and electrons. 

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