What is required in terms of research and in terms of new policy to create large-scale transformation of industrial CO2 emissions into value-added products?
SCOT (Smart CO2 Transformation) was a collaborative European project in the area of Carbon Dioxide Utilisation (CDU). The main objective of the project was to define a Vision and a Strategic European Research and Innovation Agenda for Europe in the field of CDU (papers available for download below). Carbon dioxide utilisation is a broad term that covers a variety of innovative industrial processes, which use CO2 from point source emitters (and in the future from direct air capture) as a feedstock to transform CO2 into value-added products. Therefore, CO2 is treated as a resource, rather than a waste. SCOT’s Strategic Research Agenda and the Action Plan were designed to move European policy towards this new paradigm.
The SCOT project focused on CO2 transformation technologies and processes (see figure), and therefore other related technologies such as those for capturing, transport and sequestration of CO2 (CCS) were not elaborated in detail. Direct physical uses of CO2 without a transformative step (like enhanced oil recovery, using CO2 as a solvent, as a plant growth promoter in greenhouses, or in carbonated drinks) were also outside the focus of the SCOT project. However, CCS is nonetheless considered to be complementary rather than competitive in nature, and they both share the need for efficient capturing CO2 from flue gasses.
Examples of things that can be made with CO2:
- Chemicals from CO2: A vast array of chemicals can be produced using CO2 as a feedstock. Ongoing research is primarily focusing on methanol, polymers, urea, carboxylates, carbonates, olefins and the discovery of new catalysts and mechanisms for these reactions.
- Synthetic fuels of non-biological origin: CO2-derived synthetic fuels would likely be drop-in replacements for liquid or gas fossil fuels and can directly replace fossil fuels in Europe’s existing natural liquid/gas fuels infrastructure without major modification. Long haul transport and aviation are a key target for CO2-derived fuels as these areas are the most challenging to decarbonise due to the energy density required for their fuels. Only when the CO2 used is from non-fossil origins, the remaining CO2 output after combustion of the fuel is no burden for the climate.
- Building materials and stabilised waste products: CO2 utilisation technologies also offer process integration opportunities with the potential to convert low-value materials into useful higher-value products for the building sector (e.g. synthetic aggregate), which also provides a CO2 utilisation route that can permanently sequester CO2.