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QUILL researchers showcasing ionic liquid-based processes for removing mercury from natural gas, capturing CO2

30 June 2014

Researchers from QUILL—the Queen’s University (Belfast) Ionic Liquid Laboratories—will display a novel process for removing toxic mercury from natural gas using ionic liquids at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition. There, QUILL researchers also will show a new process for trapping carbon dioxide from power plants and gas fields.

The exhibition opens to the public tomorrow, 1 July, at Royal Society headquarters in central London.

Petro-chemical giants PETRONAS and Clariant recently signed a licensing agreement for the mercury-removal material developed with QUILL.

The QUILL exhibit will focus on the properties of ionic liquids, which are essentially salts that are liquid at room temperature. With low‑to‑zero potential for pollution, ionic liquids are much “greener” than the solvents traditionally used in industry. QUILL’s interactive stand will allow members of the public to explore first-hand the properties of these liquids—for example, how they can be made magnetic.

There are two main things about ionic liquids which sets them apart and make them ideal for developing ‘greener’ alternatives to solvents. They have no vapor pressure, which means they can’t burn or explode. The other thing is that their structure allows them to be manipulated in order to perform pre-designed functions. So where there are 300 conventional molecular solvents, there are over a trillion available ionic liquids.

That’s why we call them ‘designer liquids’ as we can alter their properties to suit specific purposes. That’s how we came up with the method of removing toxic mercury from gas, research we carried out in association with the oil and gas giant PETRONAS, and which has already won us multiple awards. It’s also how we tailor‑make ionic liquids to trap carbon dioxide.

—Co-Director of QUILL, Professor Ken Seddon

The Queen's University Ionic Liquid Laboratories (QUILL) Research Center was founded in April 1999 as an industrial consortium, with members from all sectors of the chemical industry. It is based on the well-proven industry/university co-operative research centre (I/UCRC) concept developed by the USA’s National Science Foundation and is only the second I/UCRC in Europe.

There were seventeen founder industrial members of the QUILL consortium: Bioplymer Engineering; BNFL; BP Amoco; Chem Vite; Chevron; DuPont; Elementis; Exxon; ICI; Merck; Sachem; Sasol; Schering Plough; SmithKlein Beecham; Solvay; UOP; and Zeneca and QUILL's current membership includes Chevron; Clea Technologies; Cristal Millenium; Cytec; Eastman Chemicals; Evonik Industries; Givaudan; Invista; Merck; Petronas; Procter and Gamble; SACHEM; Shell; Strata; Koei; and Umicore.

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In the 90's there was developed a way to make methanol out of liquified natural gas and sulfates. Since mercury was used as a catalyst, apparently nothing came of it, despite the efficiency of the technique and its good fit with liquid air/natural gas equipment. Now we might revisit the archives.

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