Dr. Peter Styring is a Professor of Chemical Engineering & Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and Director of the UK Centre for Carbon Dioxide Utilisation.
Q: What does your research currently focus on?
A: We look at the whole CO2 utilization landscape. We consider the process design and engineering and the chemistry but with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA) to provide evidence for the viability of the processes. We also look at the social and political effects of the technologies, providing analysis and consultancy. You could say that we employ a whole systems approach to solving what is a very wicked problem.
Q: What role do you think carbon technology or CO2-based products play in climate mitigation policies?
A: There is considerable confusion in this area. The Climate Crisis needs to be tackled now and at present there is no single solution that could mitigate the problem. At the present time there is too much emphasis on the Politics rather than the policies. We are committing to mitigation targets in 2050 that data suggests cannot be achieved. CO2 has a major role to play in the policy domain. We can capture and reuse CO2 from point source emitters and eventually the atmosphere. We can convert that CO2 into value added products that will retain the gas over different time scales. But perhaps more importantly, we can avoid virgin fossil carbon from entering the supply chain as we are using “waste carbon” in its place. This is an excellent example of Industrial Symbiosis within a burgeoning circular economy.
Q: What real world application or sector(s) do you see your research or tech having the most impact on?
A: This is a very interesting question that will perhaps be more fully answered in a couple of years. It appears at present that this will be within the manufacturing industries in general: making new consumer products from CO2. However, our work on carbon dioxide capture from point sources and the atmosphere and converting them to fuels is accelerating at pace with a couple of big projects just starting in this area. The key to success is not to rule anything out: something unexpected and game-changing may just be around the corner!
Q: How do students react to your work or this climate mitigation approach in general?
A: Students see this as an exciting area of research with ties into climate change mitigation and new manufacturing capability. The group is growing and as industries become more involved, students see the opportunities for future employability in a changing landscape. We hope we are equipping our students to find employability by giving them the access to new technologies and most importantly new ways of thinking.
Q: What advice do you have for technologists or entrepreneurs starting off in this field?
A: Look at the evidence. People will say that the technologies are impossible. They usually quote thermodynamics as a game stopper, but you should look beyond that. Catalysts open doors to new possibilities. However, my main advice would be to expect the unexpected: serendipity plays a major role in discovery. Theorize, experiment, but most importantly, observe. New ideas often come out of mistakes or observation of unexpected consequences.