New innovation hub aims to commercialise closed-loop CO2 feedstock

A new open innovation programme was officially launched this week (24 October) that could see around 10% of global emissions funneled into a CO2 recycling initiative that aims to replace petroleum as a feedstock in the plastic manufacturing process.

Led by Climate-KIC and high-tech polymer supplier Covestro, the EnCO2re programme brings together more than 12 leading research partners across seven countries – including the UK – aiming to launch CO2 re-use as a commercially viable option at scale for potential industrial partners.

According to the programme, the first commercial-scale applications of CO2 re-use could be used in polymers and chemical intermediates found in furniture, insulation panels and as part of the infrastructure of vehicles.

“While it’s easy to point out the environmental problems of plastics, the reality is that our society depends on these materials in critical sectors such as healthcare, insulation, and in making vehicles that are lighter and use less fuel,” EnCO2re’s programme manager Ted Grozier said.

“But we need to figure out how to make these materials without using fossil fuels. Just like bio-based feedstocks and better recycling, CO2 re-use presents an opportunity to apply closed-loop processes to a large and growing industry. EnCO2re is aimed squarely at seizing that opportunity — and using it as a pillar of European competitive advantage.”

While much has been made about the “plastic soup” epidemic seeping into the oceans, the EnCO2re programme offers benefits outside of enhancing a closed-loop polymer product. Researchers on the EnCO2re programme, including the Professor Charlotte Williams at Oxford University, claim that the CO2 re-use market can grow by more than 20 times its current size – producing up to 3.7bn tonnes annually.

According to the programme, this equates to roughly 10% of global emissions being locked into a close-loop cycle. The EnCO2re programme would also introduce a “shift away” from fossil fuel feedstocks.

Currently, the CO2 re-use market is faced with technical, commercial and financial barriers in reaching the aforementioned potential market size. EnCO2re will now act as an “innovation hub” aimed at overcoming these barriers.

The programme has already produced two, active “world-class” projects across CO2-to-chemical conversion routes in both electrochemistry and catalysis. EnCO2re will look at adding projects covering biological conversion in 2017. All projects are at different stages along the route-to-market.

“Industry and academia need to work hand in hand to solve the world’s biggest challenges,” Oxford University’s professor of catalysis and polymer chemistry Charlotte Williams said. “Being part of EnCO2re helps us collaborate with some of the world’s CO2 re-use experts toward a common goal. Only together we can move more quickly toward sustainable industrial processes.”

CO2-based polymers are beginning to gain traction amongst established corporates. American car giant Ford has set itself a five-year window to introduce new foam and plastic components made from carbon dioxide feedstock.

When life gives you limestone

Another initiative aimed at locking carbon into products and cycles also reached a milestone last week. The Low Emissions Intensity Lime & Cement (LEILAC) consortium has announced that its project to capture almost pure CO2 released from limestone with potentially no additional energy costs had passed pilot plant testing. The EU Horizon 2020-backed project will be tested further along the route to market before a Final Investment Decision is made in 2017.

The LEILAC project aims to help the European construction industry reach ambitious 2050 emissions reductions targets by reducing the environmental impact of a cement sector which accounts for around 5% of global CO2 emissions.

Matt Mace

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