From climate killer to a valuable resource – this could be the retrospective assessment of the greenhouse gas CO2 by the middle of the 21st century. Although avoiding CO2 emissions remains the bottom line for climate protection, re-using CO2 is on the R&D agenda of an increasing number of companies and also is more and more publicly debated.
Chemical research indicates that there might be ways of separating CO2 into its elements carbon and oxygen in an energy efficient way. Energy efficiency of the process is the precondition of the economic feasibility of re-using the “C in CO2”. At the same time, it is the prerequisite for the climate protection potential that might come with CO2 re-use. Both economic feasibility and climate protection potential are increasingly within reach.
Re-using CO2 (also known as CCU – Carbon Capture and Utilization) means to use carbon dioxide either directly or in its parts after the separation of the CO2 molecule. CO2 can be used directly, e.g., in dry ice or fire extinguishers. But it can also be used for producing polymer materials like foams, fibres and rubbers. In these applications, CO2 is used as an alternative carbon source that partially or fully replaces crude oil. Another application field is to produce methane or methanol from CO2 by letting it react with power and hydrogen. If this power is excess energy from renewable sources, and the result can be used in the gaseous or liquid distribution systems, CO2 re-use can play a considerable role in the whole energy transition. In a long-term perspective, CO2 re-use has the potential to close industrial CO2-circles and thus contribute to industrial circular economy.
There are several reasons why CO2 re-use should be explored further.
Climate Impact: There is a possible contribution to carbon-neutral production systems by closing the CO2 loop along industrial value chains. The potential CO2 effect is twofold: by fixing already emitted CO2 in the product and by avoiding the use of new fossil resources .
Energy transition: CO2 re-use can contribute to the transition to renewable energies as excess energy can be used to produce methane from CO2 and thus can serve as a renewable energy storage solution.
European innovation capacity: CO2 re-use is one of the most promising industrial innovation areas where Europe really can make a difference. Although the topic is on the worldwide agenda , Europe has the industrial capacity for a large scale roll-out given the established and strong chemical industry and energy industry.
Technology maturity: Although CO2 re-use is just at the beginning of deployment the underlying technology is mature enough for scaling up. Drop-in technologies are at hand and the all-important catalysis is on the top of the R&D agenda.
Broad application range: There is an increasing demand for polymers worldwide and many different materials can be made from CO2.
Raw material base: CO2 is an available resource in a time when access to feedstock becomes very competitive.
Some factors will be crucial for CO2 re-use to become a relevant new industrial paradigm. Currently, there is no CO2 value chain — a prerequisite for large scale deployment. The availability and the price of hydrogen influences what role CO2 re-use can play in energy transition. From a technical perspective, the development of efficient catalysts is key. And not least, a culture of open innovation and a “give it a try” attitude will have major influence to unlock the huge innovation potential that lies in CO2 re-use.
www.co2inside.de by IASS Potsdam
Map on global CO2 re-use activities (developed in an EnCO2re project)
Visualisation of European CO2 sources (developed in an EnCO2re project)