Coordinator: José Paulo Barbosa Mota

We are strongly committed over the next years to finding sustainable solutions for energy conversion, storage, distribution, and recycling. The huge atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is currently a major concern. Most of the emitted CO2 is anthropogenic and energy production is among the top contributing activities for these emissions. We shall pursue and expand our research on CO2 utilisation, comprising capture, with ionic liquids, eutectic solvents, membranes, and novel adsorption processes; its (electro)chemical reduction to fuels; its use as green solvent in extraction or (bio)reactions; and its hydrogenation into methane. Specific enzymes, such as formate dehydrogenase (biocatalyst for formate/CO2 reversible interconversion), will be used for CO2 mitigation and simultaneously incorporated in line with enzymatic cascades of bioreactors aiming the production of biofuels as secondary products. For example, we have successfully transformed CO2 in a new high-pressure CO2-H2O electrolyser for syngas production and in a new Power-to-Gas scheme, CO2 hydrogenation catalysed by ruthenium nanoparticles, formed in situ in ionic liquid media, led directly to methane. High yields, at much lower temperatures than reported before, depended on each ionic liquid ability to stabilize the nanoparticles.

Because of our previous track record we are an active member of the recently created NET4CO2 CoLAB consortium, which is a network of R&D competences and new technologies aiming to create new products and processes to contribute to a sustainable CO2 circular economy. Its founding members include Galp Energia, S.A., University of Porto, Instituto Superior Técnico, LAQV/REQUIMTE, International Iberian nanotechnology laboratory, and Change Partners, SCR, SA.; and they are aligned with a strategy for the development of a group of processes contributing to the solution of the problem of carbon capture and separation by adding value to CO2.  Through a competitive competition the NET4CO2 CoLAB has been recognized and awarded the title of Collaborative Laboratory by our National Science Foundation. This title will subsequently allow NET4CO2 to be eligible for specific funding. Our immediate aims are CO2 capture and separation from industrial flue gases and CO2 transformation into added-value products such as synthetic liquid fuels or hydrogen/electricity. With the creation of the NET4CO2 CoLAB we expect to meet three main long-term achievements: • To strength and explore even further the established synergies between the industry, universities and the scientific community; • To attract and retain scientific human resources and create qualified employment, in particular of young graduates currently, by allowing them to develop their knowledge within a sustainable work perspective and in innovation focused endeavor; • To develop new Portuguese based technologies to foster the evolution of the energy mix of the future in a sustainable global environment.

Nano-structured metal-chalcogenides offer an excellent perspective for the development of energy conversion devices with low energy, high performance, and high efficiency. At present, photovoltaic cells based on metallic chalcogenides are being developed to convert solar light into electricity, specifically, CdTe technology. We are particularly interested in the conversion of thermal energy into electric energy (and vice-versa) using solid-state thermoelectric devices. In this context, we shall focus our efforts on the development of new nanochemical materials based on Tellurium for the production of bimetallic nanostructures (MxTey) with new optoelectronic properties. The nanomaterials projected are based on less toxic metals such us Cu, Zn, Ag, Pd or Pt. We will improve natural dyes performance in DSSCs and up and down conversion emitting glasses to increase energy efficiency.

We shall continue studying new nanostructured materials, such as metal organic frameworks (MOFs) and clathrates, to investigate their physicochemical properties in the context of storage/release of gases of pressing industrial relevance. CH4/CO2/CO clathrates are critical for a better design of oil pipelines and a clearer understanding of the Earth’s permafrost. We shall pursue our research on membrane-based treatment of (agro)industrial and domestic effluents for water reuse; integration of membranes with advanced oxidation processes; and new membranes incorporating ionic liquids and MOFs, as well as novel cyclic adsorption processes, for purification of industrial gaseous streams.

The replacement of oil with biomass as raw material for fuel and chemical production is an interesting option and is the driving force for the development of biorefinery complexes. We shall pursue our research on enhancing biogas and methane yields for later upgrading to biomethane through anaerobic co-digestion and post-purification of the organic fraction of municipal solid wastes and other types of biomass, as well as biomass hydrolysis/fractionation using subcritical water.

Electricity production from renewable energy sources is also one of our main aims. Salinity gradient energy, commercially known as “Blue Energy”, is a renewable energy source with a possible worldwide annual potential of ≈14000-26000 TWh (close enough to satisfy current global annual electricity demand (≈20000 TWh) and can be harvested and converted into electricity by reverse electrodialysis (RED) without emitting CO2 or other greenhouse gases. RED critically depends on the possibility to exploit salinity differences between natural water bodies, such as oceans, seas, rivers, brackish waters, etc. or saline industrial effluents. RED has been extensively studied by us through experimental and modelling investigation of fluid dynamics chronopotentiometry and CFD) – profiled membranes) and fouling (2D fluorescence spectroscopy and multivariate statistical modelling). We proposed and developed so called chevron profile membranes, which allowed to increase the amount of produced power by 14% in comparison to the state-of-the-art membranes.

We are also a founding and active member of the Advanced and Doctoral Training Program in Refining, Petrochemical and Chemical Engineering under Industrial Setting. The PhD degree in Refining, Petrochemical and Chemical Engineering was conceived as a course of higher specialization than the training typically offered by the 3rd cycles of Portuguese Universities. It was created in a special way aimed at satisfying the training needs in a knowledge area where several national and multinational companies, recently constituted as the Association of Petrochemical, Chemical and Refining Industries (AIPQR), operate in Portugal. These companies generate significant revenues, which justified the creation of a Competitiveness and Technology Pole (PCT), recently recognized by the Portuguese Government as one of the initiatives to be supported within the scope of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF). The aim of this study program is to contribute to the promotion of the competitiveness of these industries, through the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge that supports new technological developments in this area. The Advanced Studies course in Refining, Petrochemical and Chemical Engineering is equivalent to a Post-Graduate. With a curricular structure similar to the PhD course, corresponding to three academic quarters in post-work hours, with no thesis elaboration. The conclusion of the Curricular Units successfully gives the trainee a Diploma of Advanced Studies.