So far, nearly all of the discussion regarding what to do about high CO2 levels has focused on sequestration, i.e., figuring out where to hide the stuff. But, a growing number of researchers and business are urging that the United States and the rest of the world focus on a new paradigm that includes sequestration and utilization. (We will be looking at this topic in the August issue of ACerS’ Bulletin, in which we focus on the CO2 utilization research being conducted by a research group at the University of Toledo led by Abdul-Majeed Azad.

The good news is that the DOE, to its credit, has become more interested in CO2 utilization approaches, and the agency just announced that it would be funding six research projects to help find ways of converting CO2 captured from emissions of power plants and industrial facilities into energy sources, chemical manufacturing raw materials and other useful products.

The projects have a total value of $5.9 million over two to three years, with $4.4 million of DOE funding and $1.5 million of non-federal cost sharing.

While DOE efforts are underway to demonstrate the permanent storage of captured CO2 through geologic sequestration, there is also a potential opportunity to use CO2 as an inexpensive raw material and convert it to beneficial use. The selected projects will develop or improve scalable processes with the potential to use significant amounts of CO2.

Via NETL press release, the selected projects are described below:

  • Research Triangle Institute (Durham, N.C.)-RTI will assess the feasibility of producing valuable chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, by reducing CO2 using abundant low-value carbon sources, such as petcoke, sub-bituminous coal, lignite and biomass, as the reductant. The team will then evaluate whether additional processes can be added that use the carbon monoxide to produce other marketable chemicals, such as aldehydes, ketones, carboxylic acids, anhydrides, esters, amides, imides, carbonates, and ureas. (DOE share: $800,000; recipient share: $200,000; duration: 24 months).
  • CCS Materials Inc. (Piscataway, N.J.)-Investigators will attempt to create an energy efficient, CO2-consuming inorganic binding phase to serve as a high-performing substitute for Portland cement (PC) in concrete. The project team will use a novel near-net-shape forming process that uses a binding phase based on carbonation chemistry instead of the hydration chemistry used in PC concrete. (DOE share: $794,000; recipient share: $545,100; duration: 36 months).
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.)-In this project, researchers will investigate a novel electrochemical technology that uses CO2 from dilute gas streams generated at industrial carbon emitters, including power plants, as a raw material to produce useful commodity chemicals. This integrated capture and conversion process will be used to produce a number of different chemicals that could replace petroleum-derived products. (DOE share: $1,000,000; recipient share: $250,067; duration: 24 months).
  • Brown University (Providence, R.I.)-Researchers will demonstrate the viability of a bench-scale reaction using CO2 and ethylene as reactants to produce valuable acrylate compounds with low-valent molybdenum catalysts. Exploratory experiments will be conducted to identify the factors that control the current catalyst-limiting step in acrylic acid formation. (DOE share: $417,155; recipient share: $107,460; duration: 24 months).
  • McGill University (Quebec, Canada) (Quebec)-In collaboration with 3H Company (Lexington, Ky.), researchers aim to develop a curing process for the precast concrete industry that uses CO2 as a reactant. To make the process economically feasible, a self-concentrating absorption technology will be studied to produce low-cost CO2 for concrete curing and to capture residual carbon after the process. (DOE share: $399,960; recipient share: $100,000; duration: 24 months).
  • PhosphorTech Corporation (Lithia Springs, Ga.)-Investigators at this Georgia Tech spinoff will develop and demonstrate an electrochemical process using a light-harvesting CO2 catalyst to reform CO2 into products such as methane gas. Researchers hope to achieve a commercially feasible CO2 reforming process that will produce useful commodities using the entire solar spectrum. (DOE share: $998,661; recipient share: $249,847; duration: 36 months).