Enabled Future Limited CEO Participates in the Tribosonics Driving Force Podcast

Enabled Future Limited CEO – Dr Michelle Lynch took part in the Tribosonics Driving Force podcast series on the topic of “Circular Economy – Why Carbon Neutrality is Not Enough“. Here are some snippets from the podcast:

What are catalysts and how do they work?

‘They’re materials that are either solids or liquids and they play a role essentially, to get a chemical reaction to proceed at lower temperatures and pressures, and at a faster rate than if they weren’t there. They also have inherently green benefits, for instance, they increase the yield of the product. So a catalyst enables you to make chemicals at a lower cost and higher yield. They reduce waste and they also replace things like liquid acids and corrosive substances and less green substances.’ 

How do we reduce the criticality of finite resources?

‘What we need is a good plan for using those resources very pragmatically and essentially using as little of them as possible to begin with. And when you look at the fuel cell car – so I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Toyota Mirai up close; fantastic vehicle made by Toyota – on the fuel cell, the original amount of platinum was around about 35 grammes. That’s too much. Platinum is a finite resource. You can dig more of it out of the ground, and we will, but then you’re increasing the criticality. So it’s very expensive to put that much PGM on a vehicle. So the amount on there now is 15 grammes. We need it to get down even further and if we can get down to five grammes, then you are then on a level with a diesel vehicle. So one of the ways that we deal with it essentially, is to thrift that metal down as much as possible. One of the second ways you’d have to deal with it is thinking about how you can get as much of that metal back.’

How many times can you recycle these metals? Is it endless?

‘So the metals, what you can collect and process, you should be aiming for at least 97%. But you have to be able to collect it. And that’s where some of the problems happen. For instance, an automotive catalyst, it shakes while you’re driving, and it shakes and it creates dust and some of that dust ends up on the road. So we lose a certain percentage of the metal there, you might lose a little bit in manufacturing, you might lose a little bit in refining. But one of the key things is being able to collect it, if you don’t collect it, if you dismantle the car and crush the car and incinerate it without taking the catalyst off, which can happen, then you don’t get the metal back.’

How are catalysts helping us on that journey towards carbon neutrality?

‘One of the things that people need to consider is just because something’s carbon neutral, or it fits with net zero doesn’t mean it was produced according to a circular economy approach. Because you can burn down every tree on the planet and be carbon neutral. But clearly burning down every tree on the planet wouldn’t involve any sustainability or circular economy. So we need to be quite cautious.’

When you capture the co2 emissions, what can you use that for?

‘Co2 gets used in electronics applications, it gets used inside greenhouses to make flowers and fruit and vegetables grow faster. It gets used if you’ve breakfast crumpets and little holes in the crumpets you blow co2 gas through the dough. And so you can just sell co2 actually. And in fact, there is a market for co2 such that we end up with shortages. So for instance, during the World Cups, we always end up with a shortage, we haven’t got enough co2 for your beer and carbonated drinks.’

How do we improve the performance of catalysts?

‘Catalysts are generally improved all the time. When we replace a catalyst, we don’t tend to just replace it because of its composition being unfavourable, we change it because it will produce more technically improved products and produce them more cheaply and produce them more sustainably. So every generation of catalysts that comes out is better than the previous ones, and achieves more from an ESG perspective.’

How do we move fast enough to continue to meet the needs of a growing population, without destroying the planet?

‘So for me, we really need to start moving towards a situation where we can eliminate as much of the waste upfront. And one of the things that we need at the top is renewable energy. So if you replace your fossil electricity to the plant with green electricity, and you replace fossil gas with for instance biogas, then your carbon footprint comes down a lot further. And if you got rid of your natural gas reactant, and you replaced it with just co2 and hydrogen, then you’re coming down even further.’ 

Do you think governments and global governing bodies, are doing enough?

‘It is a big, important issue that we need to get all of the main global leaders to agree on a strategy. And strategy has to be different for each country, because each country has different natural resources. So there isn’t one size fits all. But we still need, and I know that we have cop cop 26 or 27 where it’s at now, and we have climate goals, translated into nationally determined contributions NDCs. But there’s still this massive problem with not having a level playing field, you’ve got one major world country making products from coal. And it’s quite risky to try to decarbonize without a level playing field.’

What is the repair economy and how does that help with sustainability?

‘So I think that the resource management side is seeing some really exciting new models, one of which is the repair economy, where we’re having quite a few initiatives and companies involved in saying that we need to extend the life of products. And when you extend the life of products, you effectively displace the need for a brand new product. So if you can start repairing things, then you have some individual control over improving sustainability. And it’s a much better model than this one I mentioned earlier where we said, we can just have as many of this that we wanted, because it’s carbon neutral.’

Listen to the full episode – available now

To hear everything Michelle has to say on the role of chemicals and catalysts in driving a sustainable future, listen to the full episode on the Tribosonics website or through your favourite podcast channel. 

About Tribsonics:

Tribosonics, based in Sheffield, UK, is a transformational technology business taking its unique sensing technologies into uncharted and valuable territories, to deliver scale and impact. Tribosonics develops smart sensing technology that can monitor and measure asset performance in key industries such as polymers and plastics, nuclear, renewable energy, automotive and marine.