The discipline of chemistry, as we are familiar with it today, has been studied since the beginning of the 17th century. Chemistry centres on the discovery and investigation of new substances, their reactions with each other and how they interact with their environment. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that the understanding of chemistry is an essential science. It is this key understanding that allows the manufacture and subsequent use of products across the consumer landscape and silently underpins modern society.
Catalytic chemistry focuses on methods that make and break chemical bonds within molecules using the smallest possible amount of energy - this is our central interest within the Crimmin group. We use catalysts containing metallic elements due to their ability to promote difficult chemical transformations. Our motivation behind researching this style of chemistry is not just because it is exciting and challenging, it is also applicable to understanding how to break down, and add value to, many different types of molecules.
The decomposition of molecules that are classed as persistent and toxic is of interest due to the adverse effects they have on the environment. It is the industrial revolution that began the emission of large quantities of these types of chemicals into the environment leading to human-assisted climate change. The most famous being carbon dioxide (CO2). Hydrofluorocarbons are another class of chemical with similar adverse properties that have been emitted into the atmosphere. As is methane; a natural resource that is often underused or burnt at source due to the costs associated with transportation. The effect of these substances on the environment can be gauged by comparing their global warming potential to that of CO2. Over 20 years, methane has a global warming potential 20 times higher than that of CO2, and hydrofluorocarbons range up to 9100 times higher.1
Our research investigates catalytic processes that break the strong bonds within selected molecules that are detrimental to the environment. We are investigating methods to transform methane into methanol, a chemical with higher value and applicability as a sustainable fuel, and fluorocarbons in to chemical building blocks that could be used directly in the production of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals or materials. We aim to develop a fundamental understanding of new science to effect these difficult transformations.
1. http://unfccc.int/ghg_data/items/3825.php, accessed 11/07/16