A new method that utilises carbon dioxide instead of carbon monoxide to generate useful chemical products is reported this week in Nature Communications. Carbon dioxide is a plentiful waste product but it is also is highly stable and thus difficult to convert into more valuable chemicals, whereas carbon monoxide is a more harmful and less accessible compound. The method reported here provides a simple and inexpensive way to activate carbon dioxide and incorporate it into existing chemical processes, which could be used to create materials such as everyday plastics.
Matthias Beller and co-workers investigated the process by which esters - compounds utilised in the industrial production of detergents and plastics - are synthesized. The process traditionally uses carbon monoxide: a more reactive chemical that poses a number of challenges due to its toxicity and flammability. However, the researchers found that with the addition of small amounts of metal catalyst and alcohol, carbon dioxide could be used as a replacement, and, indeed, it outperformed the traditional system.