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Shrinking the carbon footprint of a chemical in everyday objects

The biggest source of global energy consumption is the industrial manufacturing of products such as plastics, iron and steel. Not only does manufacturing these materials require huge amounts of energy, but many of the reactions also directly emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct. In an effort to help reduce this energy use and the related emissions, National Science Foundation-funded chemical engineers have devised an alternative approach to synthesizing epoxides, a type of chemical that is used to manufacture diverse products, including plastics, pharmaceuticals and textiles. Their new approach, which uses electricity to run the reaction, can be done at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, while eliminating carbon dioxide as a byproduct. The researchers have filed for a patent on their technique, and they are now working on improving the efficiency of the synthesis so that it could be adapted for large-scale, industrial use.

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