In CATCO2RE we have identified four main technological challenges to make liquid fuel directly from CO2 . We will mention how these challenges were overcome by Carbon Recycling International (CRI), a member of the CATCO2RE advisory committee, and a world leader in producing renewable methanol from carbon dioxide (CO2).
The Icelandic company CRI operates the ‘George Olah Renewable Methanol Plant’, the largest CO2 to methanol plant in the world, with an installed capacity of 5000 tons/year. The unique and rare advantages of Icelandic nature make this plant economically feasible. They take carbon dioxide from a geothermal plant, whose steaming lake was converted into a health spa forty years ago that is frequented by half a million people a year. The use of renewable methanol from the plant releases 90% less CO2 than the use of a comparable amount of energy from fossil fuels.
CO2 spreads in open air and is found in significantly lower concentrations than those required for the use of CO2 as a feedstock for industrial applications. CATCO2RE needs to identify opportunities to obtain concentrated CO2 streams. CRI captures CO2 from a geothermal plant, which emits highly concentrated streams of CO2 that require less energy and equipment to separate and capture.
When sunlight is converted into electricity, the electricity needs to be immediately consumed. To resolve the storage challenge, the electrical energy can be converted into chemical energy, for instance, with the production of hydrogen. However, the energy efficiency of converting sunlight to electricity is ~20% for commercial solar panels. In CATCO2RE we need to achieve higher efficiency conversions from solar to electrical to chemical energy. CRI uses renewable electricity coming from the Icelandic power grid (from hydro, geothermal, and wind sources), which costs less than half of what the industry pays in Germany or Belgium for electricity.
CO2 is produced on a massive scale: it is the greenhouse gas that most contributes to global warming. To begin to make an impact on CO2 emissions, we need to develop processes that can potentially operate with comparable productivity. Only catalytic processes have this potential. On the other hand, the amount of CO2 that CRI captures is relatively small – roughly one-20th as much as for coal-fired power plants per kilowatt-hour of electricity.
To produce methanol from a mix of CO2 and molecular hydrogen (H2) high pressures are needed. These pressures overcome the thermodynamic limitations present at the temperatures where current methanol synthesis catalysts are active. Our research strategy is to develop catalysts that are active at low temperatures, which would allow process pressures to be reduced.
In CATCO2RE we will address these challenges and develop a technology with the potential to scale and be implemented on a megaton scale