Breaking down walls for a net-zero future


Breaking down walls for a net-zero future

Queen’s researcher Cao Thang Dinh has won the Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year, Engineering and Technology category.

By Catarina Chagas, Research Outreach and Events Specialist

September 13, 2023


Queen's researchers are looking at how to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into chemicals that can be used across industries.
Dr. Cao Thang Dinh and his PhD student, Cornelius Obasanjo, have been researching how to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into chemicals that can be used across industries.

On Nov. 9, 1989, the demolition of the Berlin Wall was both literal and symbolic, as it marked the falling of concrete and imagined barriers. Twenty years later, inspired by these events, a not-for-profit organization was founded in Berlin, Germany to connect stakeholders in the areas of science, business, politics, and arts to break down the invisible borders that still separate science and society. Each November since then, The Falling Walls Foundation brings together international experts and leaders to share big ideas that can tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Did you know? The Falling Walls Foundation has a Canadian hub, hosted by McGill University. Members of the Queen’s communications teams in University Relations and the Research portfolio sit on the Canada hub advisory committee, which looks for opportunities to connect science engagers across Canada with the tools and resources they need to promote their work.

The annual summit combines keynotes, discussions, and pitches on research and science engagement, culminating in the Falling Walls Breakthrough Day, when invited speakers share the stage with the Falling Walls Science Breakthrough of the Year winners in six categories. Laureates of the Breakthrough of the Year prizes are selected from a pool of over 1,000 nominations of researchers worldwide. In 2023, Queen’s professor Cao Thang Dinh (Chemical Engineering) is the winner of the Engineering and Technology category.

Dr. Cao Thang Dinh
Dr. Cao Thang Dinh

Since joining Queen’s in 2019, building on his doctoral and post-doctoral research, Dr. Dinh has been investigating how to use carbon dioxide – one of the world’s main pollutants – to generate sustainable fuels and chemicals. Dr. Dinh’s work has been published in top scientific journals, including Nature and Science.

During the event in November, Dr. Dinh will present his innovative methods to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into methane, methanol and ethanol, all of which can be used as fuels, and polymers that can be used to create plastics, nylon, silicone, and other materials.

Although carbon conversion isn’t a novel idea, existing technology struggles with low efficiency because capturing and converting carbon are very energy-consuming processes. Dr. Dinh and team successfully built an integrated system that can tackle both at the same time, while using less energy. They are currently working with industry partners to scale up the new technology.

“This will be a great opportunity for me to speak to a non-academic audience about the importance of carbon dioxide capture and conversion technologies,” says Dr. Dinh. “This is a pressing topic in the context of a worldwide movement to decarbonize our economy and try to achieve a net-zero future.”

The Falling Walls Science Summit 2023 will take place from Nov. 7 to 9 as part of Berlin Science Week. To learn more about the event and The Falling Walls Foundation, visit the website.

Physical Sciences and Engineering
Smith Engineering