NUI Galway leads €6.99m EU project creating chemicals from sunlight and CO2

25 Jun 2020

Image: © berkut_34/

NUI Galway is to lead an EU project aiming to produce valuable chemicals using CO2 and sunlight, which could significantly cut greenhouse emissions.

With the chemical industry in Europe emitting more than 145m tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, efforts are underway to cut one of industry’s biggest polluters. Now, NUI Galway is set to lead an EU Horizon 2020 project called FlowPhotoChem, which will develop technologies to use concentrated solar energy and advanced catalysts to convert water and CO2 into valuable chemicals such as ethylene.

From a total of €6.99m in funding, NUI Galway is set to receive just under €760,000. The project is set to be completed in May 2024.

Rather than generating CO2, the FlowPhotoChem system will use CO2 as a carbon source to produce chemicals without the use of fossil fuels. Under the recently announced European Green Deal, the EU is aiming to have the continent carbon neutral by 2050 and to reduce CO2 emissions in the bloc by 40pc by 2030 and up to 95pc by 2050.

FlowPhotoChem is led by Dr Pau Farràs from NUI Galway’s School of Chemistry, who described the project as a “one-of-a-kind in Ireland” that will demonstrate how direct solar energy conversion technologies can be deployed globally.

Collaborating with chemical companies

“We are leading this exciting European project with the aim to produce green ethylene as a key compound for the chemical industry,” he said.

“With FlowPhotoChem, we will develop in parallel a demonstrator and a comprehensive model which can pave the way for a range of other green chemicals produced solely from water and CO2.”

The project includes teams from Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Uganda and the UK. To ensure FlowPhotoChem’s modular system successfully makes it to the market to reduce CO2 emissions, the team said it will work with chemical companies that could use the technology to find out about their needs and requirements.

Similar technology was revealed by a team of researchers last year, which said it had found a way to repurpose CO2 into highly purified and high concentrations of formic acid, which is commonly used in fuel cells to produce electricity.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic