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Chemical engineers generate material to capture industrial emissions

Power plants are among the large carbon dioxide emitters which could use the new technology to reduce pollution, researchers said Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA

A computer-generated material has been developed for the first time to capture industrial pollution and tackle climate change in the “most economical way”.

Chemical engineers were inspired by tools in the pharmaceutical sector to simulate 325,000 new substances in a way which has never been done before to tackle carbon emissions.

The team used the digital materials in experiments which mimicked industrial operations and identified which performed best, rather than using trial and error.

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Susana Garcia, associate director of Heriot-Watt University’s Research Centre for Carbon Solutions (RCCS), said: “The exciting part of this work is that it completely changes the way we do research.

“We now have the tools to tailor-make a material that will separate carbon dioxide in the most economical way for a given source, like industrial emissions, and make it available for other purposes like carbon storage or as a resource for the chemical industry.

“These tools will become increasingly important as decarbonising industry in the UK has become an important focus of the government, and the progress we make can be exported internationally.

“The impact of this work is transformative.”

The simulation technique is used in the pharmaceutical sector for designing drugs.

It inspired the researchers to computer generate substances and identify those with the best features.

These products – known as metal-organic framework materials – were then found to outperform those which are already available on the market.

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Scientists believe their material could be on the market in as few as five years and help the UK achieve its net-zero emissions target by 2050.

Iron and steel process industries, cement plants, refineries and waste incineration plants could all use the material to cut carbon pollution.

UK Government statistics published in March show energy supply accounts for 27% of these emissions, with only transport topping it at 33%.

Dr Garcia said: “The anthropogenic emission of the greenhouse gas CO2 into the atmosphere is the single most important factor contributing to climate change.

“Large CO2 emitters include power plants and industrial processes, so it’s critical that we develop new materials that can capture this greenhouse gas in an economically viable way.”