Putting CO2 to Use: Creating Value from Emissions

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(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) New opportunities to use carbon dioxide (CO2) in the development of products and services are capturing the attention of governments, industry and the investment community. Climate change mitigation is the primary driver for this increased interest, but other factors include technology leadership and supporting a circular economy. This analysis considers the near-term market potential for five key categories of CO2-derived products and services: fuels, chemicals, building materials from minerals, building materials from waste, and CO2 use to enhance the yields of biological processes.

While some technologies are still at an early stage of development, all five categories could individually be scaled-up to a market size of at least 10 MtCO2/yr – almost as much as the current CO2 demand for food and beverages – but most face commercial and regulatory barriers. CO2 use can support climate goals where the application is scalable, uses low-carbon energy and displaces a product with higher life-cycle emissions. Some CO2-derived products also involve permanent carbon retention, in particular building materials. A better understanding and improved methodology to quantify the life-cycle climate benefits of CO2 use applications are needed.

The market for CO2 use is expected to remain relatively small in the short term, but early opportunities could be developed, especially those related to building materials. Public procurement of low-carbon products can help to create an early market for CO2-derived products and assist in the development of technical standards. In the long term, CO2 sourced from biomass or the air could play a key role in a net-zero CO2 emission economy, including as a carbon source for aviation fuels and chemicals.

CO2 is a valuable commodity

Globally, some 230 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) are used every year. The largest consumer is the fertilizer industry, where 130 Mt CO2 is used in urea manufacturing, followed by oil and gas, with a consumption of 70 to 80 Mt CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. Other commercial applications include food and beverage production, metal fabrication, cooling, fire suppression and stimulating plant growth in greenhouses. Most commercial applications today involve direct use of CO2 .

New pathways involve transforming CO2 into fuels, chemicals and building materials. These chemical and biological conversion processes are attracting increasing interest from governments, industry and investors, but most are still in their infancy and face commercial and regulatory challenges.

The production of CO2 -based fuels and chemicals is energy-intensive and requires large amounts of hydrogen. The carbon in CO2 enables the conversion of hydrogen into a fuel that is easier to handle and use, for example as an aviation fuel. CO2 can also replace fossil fuels as a raw material in chemicals and polymers. Less energy-intensive pathways include reacting CO2 with minerals or waste streams, such as iron slag, to form carbonates for building materials.

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