Turning a Bad Into a Good: New Uses for CO2


Burning fuel releases a lot of carbon dioxide. For more is emitted than any other air emission. What can we do with it all? A basic reuse of carbon dioxide or CO2 is to have plants and trees use it to make new plants and trees. Recently, the U.S. government has been funding more than $100 million to six research projects that will turn carbon dioxide into fuel, plastics, cement and more. Though the US is spending some money even more comes from private investors.

These projects are on the receiving end of $106 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and had previously received a round of funding from USDOE in 2009 as part of an initiative to advance technologies and processes that can capture CO2 for storage or conversion to beneficial products.

The latest funding will help the construction and operation of pilot plants for the projects, which are also being supported with $156 million in private cost sharing.

Novomer is trying to collect CO2 from four sites and turn it into plastics that can be used to make packaging like bottles, films, can coatings and surface applications. Novomer expects the resulting plastics to be up to 50 percent, by weight, CO2. The process is derived from work by Cornell University which centers on a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into a polymer that could be used to make everyday items such as packaging, cups, and forks.

Several firms are working with systems that turn CO2 into carbonates. These include sodium, ammonium, potassium, or calcium carbonates.

Calera’s focus is on carbonates that can be turned into construction materials (cement), and will operate a building material production system that turns the carbonate into construction fill or cement ingredients.

Skyonic and Alcoa will turn CO2 into soluble bicarbonate and carbonate, which can be turned into fertilizer and soil amendments, in addition to construction materials. The carbonate itself is not the fertilizer. Calcium carbonate, for example, can be used to soil pH. Potassium carbonate helps supply the potassium to the plant.

Touchstone Laboratory and Phycal are both using algae with captured CO2 to produce biofuels, which can be blended with other fuels for power generation or turned into jet fuel, biodiesel and other fuels. This is another variation of making more trees and plants but one that has a more immediate commercial use in that it directly makes fuels.

Finally, CO2 by itself is useful. In this case the most common use is the carbonate of beverages.

So CO2 has many potential new uses but new technology is required to take advantage of these opportunities.

Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

photo: Angie Torres

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1 Comment

  1. Josh Einbinder on

    CO2 use is being tested/studied as a medium for heat transfer in geothermal energy production. Supercritical CO2 (highly pressurized, semi-liquid) is touted as a more efficient solution to water. The CO2 can potentially be extracted from coal power plants carbon output, reducing emissions while supplying geothermal units with the required carbon dioxide. DOE is funding research for future development. Plenty of good information….