In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can act as a ‘greenhouse gas’ and trap heat from the sun. Yet in other contexts, carbon dioxide can be highly useful. So how do we harness carbon dioxide for our benefit and keep it from going into the atmosphere?

A project at University College Dublin is looking at ways to use carbon dioxide more readily in the pharmaceutical industry, thus diverting their path to the atmosphere.

When making medicines in the lab, one of the more useful classes of chemicals to have around is carboxylic acids, explains Professor Pat Guiry, Professor of Synthetic Organic Chemistry at UCD and a co-Principal Investigator in BEACON Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre.

Professor Guiry is leading a project to use carbon dioxide when making carboxylic acids, and one of the goals is to find a suitable catalyst to make the reaction quick and easy to manage. “We are looking at lots of different metal complexes as catalysts,” explains Professor Guiry. “And we are particularly interested in abundant metals such as nickel or iron, which could be easily sourced without putting pressure on rarer metal resources.”

By refining the chemistry of using carbon dioxide to prepare carboxylic acids – which can then be used to make medicines and other complex compounds in the lab – the hope is that industry will be able to use carbon dioxide that could otherwise be emitted and travel to the atmosphere, explains Professor Guiry.

“We would anticipate that carbon dioxide could be captured from the process of burning biofuels and used in chemical reactions to make medicines,” he explains. “In this way, we would be making valuable use of waste material and also stopping that carbon dioxide from directly becoming a greenhouse gas.”