New EPSRC project funded on sustainable acrylic acid production
Dr Carmine D’Agostino, Professor Anton Kiss, Dr Xiaolei Fan, and Dr Vincenzo Spallina have recently been awarded an EPSRC Funded project, titled “Sustainable Production of ACrylic acId from reNewable waste Glycerol (SPACING)”, details of which can be found here.
To celebrate, and to find out more about this project, we spoke to Principle Investigator, Dr Carmine D’Agostino, who gave us some insight into how he hopes the project will the change chemical industry, the project goals, and how the University of Manchester will help to reach these.
Can you tell us what SPACING is, what your goals are for the project?
SPACING (Sustainable Production of ACrylic acId from reNewable waste Glycerol) is a 33-month EPSRC project that will start in September. In this project, we aim to develop a new process for the production of acrylic acid. The chemical manufacturing industry is moving towards bio-based and more sustainable routes with modular and flexible reactors and this project is timely and in line with the priority of UK to deliver clean, affordable and safe technologies.
What are the main research activities of this project?
We will focus on acrylic acid which is a key chemical commodity used for manufacturing of resins, coatings, adhesives, textile, detergents and other consumer products and currently derived from fossil-fuel based processes. We aim to develop new catalytic membrane reactors and use waste-glycerol as a feedstock, the latter being a by-product of bio-diesel production, which is widely available at a very low price. We will achieve the proof-of-principle of the technology by combining fundamental material development up to conceptual design and integration of the industrial scale process to assess also the viability, techno-economic and environmental performances.
How do you hope the SPACING project will change the Chemical Industry?
The development of a sustainable chemical industry is very much discussed nowadays but in practical terms, the scale-up of such processes is hindered by technical and economic reasons and thus marginal compared to the fossil-fuel based established processes. In SPACING we will provide an experimental and modelling study to boost the development of new catalyst design and testing and integrated membrane reactors.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research background, as well as who will you be working with, and what will they bring to this project?
I graduated in Chemical Engineering from the University of Naples “Federico II”, soon after I started working in industry in the oil & gas sector but I then decided to carry on university studies. I then pursued and obtained a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge in 2012 under the supervision of Prof. Lynn Gladden, working on applications of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to porous materials and catalysts for applications in the area of sustainable chemistry. After my PhD I remained in Cambridge as a PDRA first, and then as a University Lecturer. In 2018 I joined the Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytic Science and The University of Manchester as a Lecturer, where I lead a research group focused on catalysis and porous materials.
The project will be in collaboration with other academics within CEAS department. Vincenzo Spallina will supervise the activities related to reactor modelling and testing, Xiaolei Fan will lead activities related to preparation of zeolite-based catalysts and Tony Kiss will supervise aspects related to process modelling and economics.
How will the Project Partners, Argent Energy UK, Johnson Matthey and the Eindhoven University of Technology, help you to achieve your goals within this project?
The role of the partners will be fundamental for developing commercial and industrial aspects of the project. Being among the largest catalyst manufacturers in Europe and UK Johnson Matthey’s role will be pivotal in catalyst scale-up. As biodiesel manufacturer, Argent Energy is interested in waste glycerol-to-added value chemicals and they will provide input in terms of overall process integration and future industrial exploitation. In our team, will collaborate with the Prof. Gallucci’s Group from TU Eindhoven in the Netherlands in particular for the development of inorganic membranes and membrane reactors. Moreover, their presence will contribute to improve the industrial engagement and academic impact.
In what ways will the University of Manchester help you to achieve the goals of this project?
The University of Manchester has fantastic infrastructures both in the area of catalysts and pilot-scale reaction engineering, which are the two pillars supporting this proposal. In addition, it has a wide range of expertise in these areas. All these factors will be crucial for achieving success in this project.
Thank you to Carmine for answering these questions. It is always really interesting to hear about what research is going on in the Department, and to find out about the real world impact that this research will have.