Many Opportunities For Carbon Utilization Exist, But Barriers Remain

By Dominic Levings

USEA hosted a briefing this month on carbon utilization. Industry experts discussed findings from Carbon Utilization – A Vital and Effective Pathway for Decarbonization, the latest report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

Bob Perciasepe, President of C2ES, moderated a discussion among panelists Jeffrey Bobeck (C2ES), Ron Munson (Cogentiv Solutions), Beth Zeitler (National Academies of Sciences), Amishi Kumar (DOE Office of Fossil Energy) and Lars-Erik Gaertner (Linde Group).

According to the report, carbon utilization is “a broad term used to describe the many pathways where captured CO2 can be used or ‘recycled’ to produce economically valuable products and services.” Most captured carbon comes from power plants or industrial facilities.

There are three main sectors where captured carbon can be reutilized for commercial purposes: construction materials, fuels/chemicals/plastics, and algae-based products.

Construction materials are a prime destination for captured carbon because cement and aggregate (gravel or crushed rock used to make concrete) can be produced with carbon. The Global CO2 Initiative estimates that if carbon replaced calcium carbonate as an ingredient, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be between 1 billion and 10 billion metric tons by 2030.

Using captured carbon to produce fuels, chemicals, and plastics could reduce emissions between 100,000 to 2.1 billion tons per year. Carbon utilization in this sector is primarily achievable through the addition of hydrogen molecules to CO2, which then enables it to be converted to fuels, chemicals, and plastics.

Colloquially described as “CO2-eating machines”, algae are an attractive vehicle for carbon utilization because of its ability to efficiently photosynthesize and its potential to be generated into a variety of products. Algae-based products include livestock feed, feed additives, biofertilizers, aquaculture, and bioplastics.

Although many opportunities for carbon utilization exist, numerous barriers prevent large-scale commercialization.

Chief among them is the availability and cost of the technology necessary to achieve the initiatives outlined above. To become commercially viable and have a sizeable impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, carbon utilization technology must become an integral part of the economy.

The report also identifies several policy initiatives that can help accelerate the implementation of carbon utilization technology and advance the practice.

These initiatives fall into four categories: financial enablers, research and development, infrastructure, and market enablers.

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