LSU researchers developing new chemical manufacturing process 

The ExxonMobil Baton Rouge chemical plant is part of the petrochemical complex. (File photo)

A team of searchers from LSU and the University of Delaware are working to develop chemical manufacturing processes that use CO2 feedstocks and renewable energy sources instead of natural gas or petroleum. 

The project is backed by a four-year, $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The immediate objective for the group is to refine the process used to convert CO2 into other carbon products like those produced by Dow and ExxonMobil. To change CO2 into a different carbon-based material, scientists use tools called electrolyzers, but if chemical companies want to lower their emissions by using this process for chemical manufacturing, the electrolyzers have to be made more durable and energy efficient.  

“There has been a lot of progress in CO2 reduction over the last 15 years; we can now make valuable carbon products like ethanol and ethylene, and we can make them at high rates,” says John Flake, principal investigator on the project and chair of LSU’s department of chemical engineering. 

“The problems at this stage are more practical. For example, the electrolyzer materials need to last for years, and the energy efficiency needs to be improved. The goal of our project is to accelerate the work needed to make CO2 electrolyzers more durable and efficient. This could lead to industrial-scale CO2 electrolysis within a decade,” Flake says. 

In addition to the researchers, more than 70 undergraduate and graduate students will be directly engaged with the work; and representatives from leading chemical manufacturers Shell, Dow, and ExxonMobil have already agreed to be involved in some capacity. 

Flake says ethylene is a common chemical building block used in making hundreds of products such as plastics, detergents, and textile fibers. Read more from LSU.