Carbon dioxide utilization involves converting carbon dioxide captured from industrial or atmospheric sources into value-added products. The process plays a role in the overall carbon management toolkit. However, utilization pathways are not equal, and life-cycle CO2 emissions vary widely. Incorporating CO2 into durable products like cement or structural components permanently isolates CO2 from the atmosphere but reflects a relatively small potential market. “Upgrading” highly stable free-phase CO2 molecules into fuels using renewable energy sources incurs a heavy thermodynamic penalty but generates high-value, market-ready fuels.
PNNL and carbon utilization
PNNL brings expertise in separations, catalysis, systems integration, and engineering to develop CO2 utilization pathways.
Under PNNL’s BES mission, we discovered that CO2 is much more reactive in the solvent than when it is removed at the end of the full capture process. Combining this fundamental discovery with our expertise in catalysis, we have been able to convert CO2 in this more reactive state directly to methanol. PNNL’s team is currently collaborating with our colleagues at Southern California Gas to commercialize and deploy this integrated CO2 capture and conversion to materials (IC3M) technology, where our first target molecules are methane and methanol.
Like sling-shotting around the moon to reduce fuel use on space missions, the IC3M approach uses thermodynamics to our advantage. Reacting the CO2 while in its captured state eliminates the energy required to regenerate the CO2 solvent, while also reducing the amount of energy required to upgrade the CO2 to a high value commodity.