Professor Jinghai Li, recently appointed Director of the National Natural Science Foundation of China, is working with Professor Peter Edwards, Dr Tiancun Xiao and colleagues at Oxford and Cambridge and Prof Hamid Almegren of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia on an international and interdisciplinary project that opens up new and exciting possibilities for direct utilisation of CO2 at large-scale sources of fossil fuel combustion.
China is the world’s largest CO2 emitter, and Saudi Arabia the world’s largest oil producer. Despite major improvements in renewable energy technologies, the world still relies on hydrocarbon fossil fuels. Fossil fuel combustion in power plants and petrochemical industries is responsible for the greatest amount of anthropogenic emissions of CO2, one of the most potent greenhouse gases and a major cause of climate change. Mitigating the impact of CO2 with carbon capture and storage (CCS) brings its own challenges and is highly energy-intensive.
The unique technology developed in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology-Oxford Centre of Excellence in Petrochemicals uses a process called Flue Gas Reforming. Flue gases are converted to synthesis gas (syngas) that is perfectly suited for the production of a wide range of fuels and industrially important chemicals. This is achieved with new-generation, step-change catalysts that are designed to have minimal effect on a power plant’s generation capacity but are sufficiently robust to convert syngas into super-clean fuel or chemicals without the need for CCS. The next challenge is to ensure that the resulting energy/CO2 balance of the entire process is carbon-neutral or ideally, carbon-negative. This international, multidisciplinary approach represents a timely response to the historic achievements of the 2015 Paris Agreement.