Waste #CO2 to be turned into ingredients for fuel, plastics and even food
The recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on #Climate Change warned that the world needs to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. This requires many solutions and multiple technologies.
“Since the industrial sector emits 40% of all carbon dioxide, we are trying to capture it from the chimney and do something useful with it,” said Professor Patricia Luis Alconero at #UC #Louvain in #Belgium, who has just begun an ambitious project to turn waste #CO2 into useful chemicals.
Her project, CO2Life, is inspired by nature. “Our process looks at the way nature takes up CO2 for its own ends. We try to copy nature’s use of enzymes, but in a way that is more efficient and which uses membrane technology,” she said.
Current technology for capturing carbon uses liquid amines, expensive and toxic chemicals with great affinity for CO2 molecules, but the cost and sustainability of the process are of concern. In order to generate energy and to capture CO2 in a fossil fuel power plant, for instance, an additional 30% more energy needs to be generated.
To develop this membrane-based process, Prof. Luis Alconero is using amino acid salts and enzymes that will capture and convert CO2 molecules into useful chemicals. In a second step, also using membranes, the chemicals will be crystallised and recovered as pure materials for use by industry.
“This process is flexible since depending on the enzymes we use, we can get different chemicals,” she said. Examples include carbonate salts, such as sodium or calcium carbonate, a raw material for the cement industry, or glucose.
Other high-value possibilities are pure compounds that could be valuable to the food industry. It is the cost of turning CO2 into something useful and the value of that material that determines whether the process sinks or swims.
“CO2 is a waste, so it really has to be a cheap process that leads to an interesting component,” said Prof. Luis Alconero, who aims to build a prototype system.
“Our objective is to come up with a solution that is more environmentally friendly than amines and also to solve the economic issues,” she said.