Earth to earth, dust to dust, carbon to carbon: Bert Weckhuysen, Distinguished University Professor ‘Catalysis, Energy and Sustainability’, sketches the ingredients for a true circular economy. In his lecture at the Royal Institution in London, he explained how catalysis research can contribute to a cleaner world, and how politics and government need to play an essential part by introducing adequate legislation.
In his lecture, Weckhuysen takes his audience on a journey from the discovery of crude oil to our current problems with carbon dioxide, and the role of catalysis throughout this journey. Gasoline is made from crude oil with help of a catalyst, which cuts up large molecules to make a suitable fuel for car engines. Over the years, catalysts were developed to make fuels, plastics, and medicines. But these materials are also the root of problems like plastic waste and global warming caused by CO2. Fortunately, catalysts can also help us find solutions to these problems.
In the second half of the 20th century, acid rain was a major problem that plagued our environment. So why is nobody talking about it anymore? Acid rain was not a hoax: chemistry actually made important steps towards solving this problem, by introducing cleaner fuels and the automobile catalyst.