The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Carbon Dioxide Conversion Program focuses on research, development and demonstration of a broad suite of technologies that convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into environmentally responsible, equitable and economically valuable products, thus enabling low-carbon supply chains to meet the goal of a decarbonized economy by 2050. These products can provide revenue to the emitter that can offset the cost of capturing, treating, and transporting CO2 — and to the user of the CO2 — while also achieving a net reduction of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.
The Carbon Dioxide Conversion Program seeks to identify and develop new and improved materials, equipment, and processes that produce value-added goods using CO2 as a feedstock. Pathways to generate products are diverse and can include biological uptake, catalytic conversion, and mineralization. Products made from these pathways can include fuels, chemicals, agricultural products, animal feed, building materials, and other beneficial goods and materials. Carbon Dioxide Conversion is generally applicable to any flue gas stream generated by the combustion of carbon-based fuels, such as natural gas and biomass, as well as to carbon dioxide capture streams and several other carbon-rich waste gas streams that are currently vented to the atmosphere. The development of technologies that lead to revenue-generating products can help support broader carbon dioxide emissions reduction strategies — such as CO2 capture and storage and hydrogen production — and lead to more sustainable power generation and industrial and agricultural practices.
The Carbon Dioxide Conversion Program is focused on carbon dioxide biological uptake using algae, catalytic conversion into fuels and chemicals, and mineralization into inorganic materials:
The biomass produced in algal systems can be processed and converted to chemicals, fish and animal feeds, human dietary supplements, soil amendments, and other specialty and fine products. The Carbon Dioxide Conversion Program is working to develop economically viable adoption of biomass cultivation practices that consume CO2 that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere. Current focus is on the cultivation of microalgae or blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in outdoor ponds or photobioreactors. Ongoing R&D addresses CO2 capture, conditioning, transport and transfer to the algal medium to maximize CO2 uptake and minimize the cost of CO2 delivery.
Conversion pathways can include thermochemical, electrochemical, photochemical, plasma-assisted and microbially mediated approaches. Many approaches require catalysts or integrated processes to lower the energy needed to drive these systems. Via this pathway, waste carbon can be transformed into higher-value products such as synthetic fuels, chemicals, plastics and solid carbon products such as carbon fibers. Currently, the manufacture of value-added chemicals, polymers and other products often involves complex, multiple chemical synthesis steps; however, other novel approaches are being explored, including multifunctional nanocatalysis, biological catalysis and process-intensified conversion systems.
Carbon dioxide mineralizes with alkaline reactants to produce inorganic materials, such as cements, aggregates, bicarbonates and associated inorganic chemicals. Carbonate materials may be an effective long-term storage option for CO2, especially for use in the built environment. R&D in this area seeks to react CO2 with industrial alkaline sources, including wastes to manufacture valuable products and reduce CO2 emissions from existing production processes. The Carbon Dioxide Conversion Program is pursuing R&D that increases process performance and optimizes CO2 conversion rates, capacity, and energy use efficiencies while producing a product with equivalent or superior performance properties compared to current commercial products.
The diverse portfolio of NETL’s Carbon Dioxide Conversion projects can be viewed in the interactive map below. Projects can be sorted by technology area. Clicking on a location allows you to learn more about each individual project. Note that the Carbon Dioxide Conversion Program does not support R&D of CO2 as a working fluid for applications such as enhanced oil recovery, supercritical CO2 power cycles or for any application where the carbon is not converted into a value-added product.