The European Union aims to become as emission free as possible by 2050, which is why we need more renewable energy and ways of storing it. This team develops clean catalyst materials that would make the chemical industry cleaner and the world more sustainable, says team leader Tanja Kallio.
“Catalysis, a change in the rate of a chemical reaction, forms the basis of the modern chemical industry. Roughly 90 percent of the industry’s processes utilize catalysts, materials which are responsible for said reaction rate. These materials are also at the core of emerging energy conversion and bioproduction technologies.
However, catalysts currently in use are based on metals that the European Union has classified as critical raw materials (CRM), such as platinum or iridium. They are considered critical because of scarcity or geopolitical reasons, among others, which might limit their use in the future. That’s why there’s a growing need to develop new catalysts and renewable energy technologies in order to secure the chemical industry in the years to come, but the current materials and methods might not meet that need.
Our team wants to develop catalytic materials, which don’t utilize any critical raw materials and thus enable the development of new energy storage technologies. The CRM free materials we propose are hybrid materials that consist of carbon and common metals like iron or nickel. Common metals haven’t been suitable for use as catalysts because they become oxidized in the process. But if you cover them with a thin layer of carbon, as we intend to do, the metals don’t oxidize and work as catalysts. We want to use our material as an electrocatalyst for an electrolyser in order to store excess electricity in the form of chemical bond energy.
EU countries aim to reduce their emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. This will happen only if we switch to renewable energy such as wind and solar power, which increases the global need for energy storage methods. The need for renewable energy is a crucial and relevant issue all over the world. Our team is energetic, skilled and a pioneer in technology. The work we do would tackle the need for sustainability in a big way.”
1. Why can your team make the world a better and more sustainable place?
We can create solutions that advance the production of renewable energy and materials, which are essential to everyone, everywhere.
2. If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be?
President Donald Trump. Someone should make him support this branch of work and change his mind about climate issues.
3. What’s the best thing that has come out of science and research so far?
Science has improved the standard of living all around the world. That is its most valuable achievement, but it can’t be reduced to a singular invention or branch of science. Thanks to the constant development of science in general, more and more people have a better chance of getting enough nutrition and medical care.
Tanja Kallio, team leader, professor, Aalto University
Dr. Henrik Romar, team leader, University of Oulu
Ilkka Varjos, Vice President (Technology), Canatu Oy
Kari Laasonen, professor, Aalto University
Sami Tuomi, doctoral student, Aalto University
Dr. Maija Pohjakallio, senior advisor, Chemical Industry Federation of Finland (KT ry)