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Tandem Electrocatalytic Reactor for energy/Resource efficiency And process intensification

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - TERRA (Tandem Electrocatalytic Reactor for energy/Resource efficiency And process intensification)

Reporting period: 2018-09-15 to 2019-09-14

Problem/issue being addressed
A key element for energy and chemistry transformation to a low-carbon and sustainable future, and indicated as key action in the SPIRE Roadmap (Key Action 2.4) is to develop "new ways of targeting energy input via electrochemical, light and ultrasound based systems will direct the reaction to the right target with less energy input”. However, there are still very limited industrial processes based on electrocatalysis. The development of new concepts for industrial electrochemical processes is necessary, in particular in terms of catalytic electrodes and advanced electroreactors for chemical production. This is a key technology for (a) saving resources and energy, (b) process intensification, and (c) effectively introduce renewable energy in the value chain of production.

The project has mainly an explorative character to investigate the development of new possibilities for introducing novel tandem electrocatalytic processes for the conversion of biobased molecules and develop new industrial e-refinery routes. The tandem electrocatalytic reactor saves the use of oxidizing/reducing reagents, introduces renewable energy in the synthesis process and result in process intensification. All these elements are crucial to enable effective biobased industrial routes to substitute current processes for the synthesis of main industrial chemicals/monomers based on fossil fuels.

Why is it important for society?
The background knowledge developed within the projects are key aspects to this transformative energy and chemistry conversion towards a low-carbon and sustainable production, which largely substitute the use of fossil fuels (particularly to drive energy for the conversion processes) with renewable energy.

The impact is beyond the only specific energy saving, but is one of the elements to realize a progressive substitution of fossil fuels in chemical production. The project main relevance for society is thus to be a technology enabler rather than be just limited to the specific case investigated. It is a key element to meet the target of substituting more 30% the use of fossil fuels in chemical production with new energy-efficient productions, which impact on gas (GHG) emissions is over 50-60 Mt of CO2, as estimated by JRC Science for Policy report "Energy efficiency and GHG emissions: Prospective scenarios for the Chemical and Petrochemical Industry".

What are the overall objectives?
The main objective of the TERRA project is to obtain both MEG (mono ethylen glycol) and FDCA (2,5 dicarboxy furan) from sugars in a single and tandem electro-catalytic reactor (TER), with and adaptable technology, which allows control and tailoring of reactor performances by supplying renewable-based external electrical energy (e.g. wind or solar power). MEG and FDCA are monomers for the production of PEF (PolyEthylene Furanoate), a next-generation 100%-renewable plastic developed by partner AVT.


While the project is focused on a specific industrial case, the overall objective is to be a technology enabler to put the industrial bases for the development of novel routes to produce chemicals in e-refinery. This is a key component for future low carbon scenario of Europe and to meet the targets in GHG emissions, requiring to develop revolutionary rather than evolutionary technologies and processes. In this sense, the project is also one of the crucial elements for competitiveness of European chemical industry.
TERRA project is at the final 3rd reporting Period (M36) of a four-years project. The project run following the scheduled Gantt chart plan, but an extension of the activities in WP1 (development of electrocatalysts) and minor other changes such as a minor extension for Task 2.7 have been made. All Deliverables have been made, but few of the Milestones have been only partially achieved.

It should be outlined, as conclusion of the project, that a major objective of the project was to develop and scale-up up to prototype unit a tandem electrocatalytic unit for the target reactions. This was achieved successfully as described below. However, the critical issue was that the electrocatalysts do not meet the expected performances, although the activities continued beyond those initially planned (this is the reason of extension of the activities). The project evidenced that there is the need to develop more general principles and concepts on how to design efficient electrocatalysts and processes for the conversion of biobased molecules. In other words, the project demonstrated that electrocatalysis is not just the combination of catalysis and electrochemistry, but that it is necessary (for a successful development of the whole area) to develop new concepts and methodologies on how efficient electrocatalysts should be designed, developed, scale-up and implemented. This is the main lesson learned from the project, and that would be relevant for other projects in the general area of e-refinery.
An Innovation Radar has been prepared to identify the maturity of innovations developed within the project.

With respect to the potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, it must be remarked that the project has mainly an explorative character as outlined in the initial section (Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project). The project main impact is thus of technology enabler for the crucial target to develop effective biobased industrial routes to substitute current processes for the synthesis of main industrial chemicals/monomers based on fossil fuels. Thus the impact is beyond the specific example investigated. The impact on greenhouse gas has thus to be considered in relation to this main aim. The project thus contributes to establish new possibilities, but also to evidence some current limits, to meet the target of substituting more 30% the use of fossil fuels in chemical production with new energy-efficient productions.

With respect to the impact in terms of competitiveness, the development of novel routes to produce chemicals in e-refinery is one of the crucial elements for competitiveness of European chemical industry. To deploy the technology in a competitive manner it is necessary to develop new improved electrocatalysts, but which require to develop the scientific bases on how to realize this objective.
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