CO2 is well known for its contribution to global warming, and is usually considered a pollutant. It is little known that CO2 can also be used in a variety of industrial processes, including production of synthetic jet fuel and diesel, polymers and plastics, concrete and building aggregates, and for increasing crop yields.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates current global demand for CO2 at around 240Mt annually, which could grow by 1.7% year-on-year over the next five years. While this is a small market (in comparison, global greenhouse gas emissions represented 53.5Gt CO2 in 2017), it could play an important role in achieving ambitious GHG emissions reductions, like the UK’s recent 2050 net zero emissions targets.
- leveraging CO2 as an input factor in hard-to-abate sectors, such as building materials, would contribute to permanently reducing their carbon footprint: water is replaced with CO2 in the mixing of concrete, thereby effectively storing the gas in concrete;
- using CO2 in combination with direct air capture (DAC) and green hydrogen (from electrolysis) would improve the lifecycle emissions for heavy road transport, shipping and aviation; and
- driving down capital costs for DAC (a technology considered speculative in the Net Zero report by the Committee on Climate Change) and electrolysis would help make the business case for low carbon synthetic fuels.
The most promising avenues for developing the required technologies are probably in local applications, where CO2 is captured either from the air or from industrial flue gas and used on site. This reduces the need for costly CO2 infrastructure, and revenues from CO2 sales can offset some of the CO2 capture costs. A number of local CO2 capture and use projects currently demonstrate this model: the Climeworks plant in Hinwil (Switzerland) for example uses heat from a nearby waste incinerator to transfer 900t CO2 annually from the atmosphere to a neighbouring greenhouse. Another example is the collaboration between Lafarge Holcim and start-up Solidia Technologies. These two companies developed an innovative curing process utilising CO2 that will reduce the environmental footprint of pre-cast concrete at a commercial scale.
These projects demonstrate the feasibility of carbon capture and use. Policy support and an integration into industrial strategy across Europe and globally are now needed to improve the economics of engineered carbon removal and use.
Let’s make CO2 an asset in our pathway to a net-zero-emissions future.
Baringa has developed Prospect, our energy transition model that allows business across all sectors to design global climate change scenarios. These scenarios can help inform the role of carbon capture, use and storage in meeting Paris-COP21 emissions commitments.