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Turning Cooking Oil By-Products and CO2 into Valuable Industrial Additives
Upgrading of biobased glycerol and CO2 toward glycerol carbonate under intensified continuous flow with organocatalysis.
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Turning Cooking Oil By-Products and CO2 into Valuable Industrial Additives
by Erica Marchand
Liege, Belgium (SPX) Feb 02, 2024

In a notable stride towards sustainable chemical manufacturing, researchers at the Center for Integrated Technology and Organic Synthesis (CiTOS) of the University of Liege have unveiled a novel method for producing glycerol carbonate, a high-value biosourced industrial additive.

This study, conducted in collaboration with the Center for Studies and Research on Macromolecules (CERM), demonstrates the potential for continuous industrial production of glycerol carbonate using CO2 and a by-product of the cooking oil recycling industry, positioning this method as a beacon for eco-friendly innovation in chemical synthesis.

The research, led by Jean-Christophe Monbaliu, director of CiTOS, aligns with Europe's ambitious R and D and production directives aimed at reducing environmental impact and curtailing reliance on petrochemical resources.

By focusing on molecules derived from biomass, the team has spotlighted glycerol-a by-product of the biodiesel industry and cooking oil recycling-as a target for valorization. Traditionally considered waste due to its low economic value, glycerol, in concert with CO2 (another undervalued industrial by-product), is being transformed into valuable chemical compounds, marking a shift towards more sustainable manufacturing practices.

Glycerol carbonate emerges as a standout molecule in this endeavor. Recognized for its lower flammability compared to petroleum-based carbonates like ethylene and propylene, which are prevalent in lithium battery electrolytes, glycerol carbonate offers a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative.

Its application extends beyond battery technology to serve as a biolubricant, formulation agent, and green solvent, highlighting its versatility and potential to replace more hazardous chemicals in various industries.

Despite the apparent advantages, the market for glycerol carbonate has remained limited, primarily due to the slow and costly nature of existing production processes. The team at CiTOS and CERM has sought to overcome these hurdles through a hybrid approach that marries fundamental and applied organic chemistry.

By studying the mechanism of glycerol carbonate formation through quantum chemistry and applying this knowledge under mesofluidic conditions, they have developed an intensified process that significantly outpaces current methodologies.

This new process, validated at the pilot scale, efficiently converts glycidol (a direct derivative of glycerol) and CO2 in the presence of an organic catalyst into glycerol carbonate in less than 30 seconds-a rate that far surpasses existing production methods. The implications of such efficiency are vast, offering "unprecedented perspectives for potential future industrialization," according to Jean-Christophe Monbaliu.

The study's findings, detailed in the research report "Intensified Continuous Flow Process for the Scalable Production of Bio-Based Glycerol Carbonate," not only pave the way for scalable, sustainable chemical production but also represent a significant step forward in the utilization of industrial waste and CO2 as valuable resources.

This research underscores the potential of innovative chemical processes to contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly industrial landscape, aligning with broader goals of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and minimizing the environmental footprint of chemical manufacturing.

This breakthrough not only exemplifies the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration in tackling environmental challenges but also sets a new benchmark for the industrial production of bio-based chemicals, offering a glimpse into a more sustainable future for chemical manufacturing.

Research Report:Intensified Continuous Flow Process for the Scalable Production of Bio-Based Glycerol Carbonate

Related Links
University of Liege
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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