The Emerging Carbon Economy

Fred van Beuningen

Apr 26, 2021

Published on Cleantech Delta

The CarbonXprize winners were announced last week. Both CarbonCure Technologies and CarbonBuilt develop CO2-to-concrete technologies, despite CO2-to-polymers and CO2-to-chemicals companies also being among the finalists. Their win is no surprise, as one of the conditions for winning was that the technology can be deployed at commercial scale in the near term.

Lux Research predicts that the carbon economy will be $550 billion by 2040, projecting that CO2 utilization will be driven by the building materials industry. ExxonMobil announced its plans for a potential new upstream business by deploying more than twenty Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects. Based on the new projects highlighted, the focus will be on pre-combustion CO2 capture, rather than post-combustion, though both remain key to decarbonization. We can expect more of such announcements in 2021.

In February, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry launched a public database of CO2-derived products. The database, called the New Technology Information System (NETIS), is designed to promote the procurement of CO2-derived products in government tenders.

Siemens and Evonik launched the Rheticus project successfully validating the combination of CO2 electrolysis and fermentation at the lab scale, and they launched a pilot system for the next phase of the project, still reaching to economic viability.

A new CO₂-to-ethanol electrocatalyst with 90% selectivity is being developed at Argonne National Laboratory. This selectivity is a great improvement on existing CO2-to-ethanol electrocatalysts. The new catalyst exhibits similar selectivity to CO2-to-CO and CO2-to-formic acid electrolysis platforms that are being scaled up today.

Maersk, Ørsted, and other Danish companies embark on full-scale electro fuels production by 2030. In what is likely the most large-scale electro fuels project to date, a total of 1.3 GW of electrolyzer capacity is planned to come online by 2030 to produce 250,000 MT of fuels – hydrogen for buses and trucks, methanol for shipping, and electro fuels for aviation.

Braskem’s partnership with the University of Illinois is the first step in transitioning the CO2-to-PE pathway out of academia. It is Braskem’s effort to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Asahi Kasei claims to improve yields in CO₂-to-isocyanate process. Isocyanates – one of the two building blocks of polyurethanes – are generally more challenging to make sustainable than polyols. Chiyoda corporation works on syngas manufacturing using CO2 reforming and synthesizing methane from CO2 at ambient temperatures that is researched by Shizuoka university.

The momentum around CO2 capture and utilization will undoubtedly continue, as the carbon neutrality goals of the world’s major economies will result in a significant uptick in announcements in 2021. As the market has a huge commercial potential too, companies will increase efforts to identify the winning technologies and target markets for CO2 utilization in the carbon economy.