Carbon monoxide is hazardous, particularly when it needs to be stored or transported in large quantities. However, the chemical industry currently cannot do without carbon monoxide; it is used as a raw material in the production of many important basic chemicals. Professor Katharina Schröder at the Institute of Applied Synthetic Chemistry at TU Wien wants to change all that. She is working on new synthetic methods which use abundantly available carbon dioxide instead of noxious carbon monoxide. It's better for the climate too: instead of releasing carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere, it can be extracted from combustion processes and then used in the processing of high-value products, thus contributing to a reduction in CO2 emissions.
Katharina Schröder has now been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council (ERC), this being one of Europe's most lucrative and prestigious research awards. Katharina Schröder will use the grant to develop better catalysts and optimise chemical processing techniques to enable synthetic procedures for the use of CO2. This should result in organic synthetic chemistry becoming more sustainable and better for the environment.
Recycling of CO2
"The problem in processing CO2 is that it is a very unreactive gas," explains Katharina Schröder. "A lot of energy has to be used for CO2 molecules to react with other substances, enabling this to be converted into valuable products." Various catalysts can facilitate these processes. Work is also being done at TU Wien with photocatalysts – these are catalysts that only produce their effect when they are activated by light. The energy of the light can thus be used directly for the chemical reaction.
It is also important to select the right solvents for different chemical reactions, to enable synthesis to proceed under gentle conditions in a way that is as environmentally safe as possible. The design of the apparatus and chemical reactors also play a key role here for ongoing production.
"We want to achieve improvements in all these areas, to produce CO2 from a range of very different products," says Katharina Schröder. "There are already some research groups working on converting CO2 into sources of energy, in other words, the production of eco-friendly fuels. We want to go a step further and develop synthetic processes for higher-value end products, as are required in very different sectors of industry." Application opportunities range from the pharmaceuticals industry to agricultural chemistry and surfactants for detergent production.
Katharina Schröder studied at TU Wien, where she was also awarded her doctorate in 2006. She then continued her research at Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratory (QUILL) in Belfast (UK). In 2009, she moved to the Centre for Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry at the Technical University of Denmark.
In 2010, she returned to TU Wien, where she has since established her own research group and is currently focusing on research into green, sustainable chemistry. She received her post-doctoral lecturing qualification in 2015 and currently holds a career position. Katharina Schröder has already received numerous awards, including the "Prize of the Industrial Advisory Board" at the QUILL Meeting 2009, third place in the INITS Award 2012 and the Best Teaching Award at TU Wien in 2017.
Prof. Katharina Schröder
Institute of Applied Synthetic Chemistry
Getreidemarkt 9, 1060 Vienna
Phone: +43 1 58801 163601