Flue2Chem: gaining attention as it gathers pace

16 November 2023


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The Flue2Chem project was recently featured in Sky News Economics Editor Ed Conway's popular science Substack.

SCI's Director of Innovation, David Bott, has been documenting the progress of the Flue2Chem project over recent months, and his musings have been picked up in Material World, the Substack blog of Sky News' Ed Conway.

Flue2Chem marks the first time sectors have come together with academia to work in this way on a major net zero goal.

In his recent Substack article, Ed Conway writes:

‘There’s an interesting scientific project underway here in the UK called Flue2Chem. Essentially, a group of scientists and businesses are attempting to map out the supply chain you’d need if you really were replacing the fossil carbons we use to make everyday products like packaging, paints, adhesives, textiles, drugs, fertilisers, insulation and cleaning products.

‘You might not think of laundry liquid as a fossil fuel product, and certainly some of the main elements come from elsewhere (for instance, salt! - see chapter 5 of Material World). But among the most important ingredients inside most detergents are a collection of molecules called surfactants. These are the clever chemicals which help prise dirt off from fabrics.

‘A typical surfactant is comprised of two parts - an oleophilic section which grips onto the dirt and a hydrophilic bit that dissolves in water. These chemicals are churned out in their millions from chemicals plants (about 17.6 million tonnes a year, equivalent to 44 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent). Those chemicals come in turn from crude oil. So it’s a similar story to ABS.

‘Reading David Bott’s accounts of Flue2Chem’s experiments making surfactants from non-oil feedstocks (the plan is to make it from carbon dioxide sequestered from chimneys), a couple of things struck me. First, even for this comparatively simple molecule, the processes necessary are surprisingly complex. Second, we’re still very much in the early stages of working out how to do this.’

Four things you need to know about Flue2chem:

  1. Industries are coming together to stem climate change:
    Manufacturing giants have got together for the first time in an attempt to slash carbon emissions from industry. In a world first, global manufacturing companies are working together with universities to try to turn CO2 emitted from manufacturing into everyday household washing and cleaning products.

  2. It's about reducing the need to extract more carbon and release more CO2:
    Like many consumer products, detergents are made of carbon, currently sourced from oil and gas. The new process could prevent the need for more fossil fuels being extracted to make not just detergents including washing powders and dishwashing products, but textiles, plastics and other components of many consumer goods too. If successful, it will also cut some of the 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 (6% of the global total) currently being emitted into the atmosphere by industry.

  3. A range of industries are involved:
    From high CO2 emitters including energy-intensive steel-making and product manufacturing – to chemical companies, SMEs and universities – many sectors are involved.

  4. It's backed by UK government:
    The project is supported by Innovate UK.

Notes to editors:

About SCI: where science meets business
SCI, a charity established in 1881, is an industrial innovation hub connecting industry, academia, and government to accelerate science-based solutions to the big societal challenges. Our community has over $500bn of sales and invests over $30bn in research and development globally every year and is at the coalface of working on solutions to climate change, global health, and sustainability.

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Liane Farrer