Scientists from Monash University have discovered that a major ingredient in household vinegar could help to create negative carbon emissions.

Plans for the adoption of this process across national industries are already underway, and if successful, could help to slow or even reverse the effects of climate change. And it’s all thanks to acetic acid.



What is acetic acid?

Acetic acid can be found in a variety of everyday items including household vinegar, vinyl paints and glues. In fact, it’s estimated that the demand for acetic acid is around 6.5 million tonnes every year.

The clear, colourless liquid makes up around 4 percent of vinegar by volume, making it the largest ingredient aside from water and a few trace elements. It is also used to produce chemicals for photographic film and in synthetic fibers.



What did the scientists discover?

Published in Nature Communications, the study into acetic acid was undertaken by chemical engineers from Monash University. They found that captured carbon dioxide could be used to produce acetic acid instead of the liquid rhodium or iridium catalysts currently being used.

This is significant because liquid catalysts require a long purification process, using additional energy. Instead, carbon dioxide can be made into acetic acid using an economical solid catalyst, requiring less processing and thus reducing emissions. By removing the need for additional processing, costs were also reduced.

According to Associate Professor Akshat Tanksale, lead researcher on the project, this discovery has several environmental and economic implications.

“CO2 is overabundant in the atmosphere, and the main cause of global warming and climate change. Even if we stopped all the industrial emissions today, we would continue to see negative impacts of global warming for at least a thousand years as nature slowly balances the excess CO2.”

“There is an urgent need to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into products that do not release the captured CO2 back into the atmosphere. Our team is focussed on creating a novel industrially relevant method, which can be applied at the large scale required to encourage negative emissions.”



What are the next steps?

In order to commercialize and simplify this process, the team developed a metal-organic framework (MOF), characterized as a crystalline material made up of iron atoms.

The MOF was then heated to encourage the iron atoms to bond and form particles. These iron nanoparticles were dispersed among a layer of captured carbon, and its these materials working together that created the catalyst for making acetic acid.

This process has already proven to be more efficient and cost-effective than previous practices used for producing the acid. Similarly, it has several environmental benefits by reducing pollution caused by manufacturing and repurposing excess carbon dioxide.

Experts are excited by the potential to slow climate change as a result, due to the newfound ability to limit the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Similarly, the economic benefits of this discovery are a strong motivator for an overall adoption into national industries. In fact, researchers are already collaborating with industry partners in order to develop the project further for commercialization.

It seems that a simple ingredient in household vinegar now holds the key to environmental action and economic success.

To read about another creative environmental solution, click here.