A research team from U of T Engineering has developed a new electrochemical path to transform CO2 into valuable products such as jet fuel or plastics. The technology could significantly improve the economics of capturing and recycling carbon directly from the air.
“Today, it is technically possible to capture CO2 from air and, through a number of steps, convert it to commercial products,” says Professor Ted Sargent who led the research team. “The challenge is that it takes a lot of energy to do so, which raises the cost and lowers the incentive. Our strategy increases the overall energy efficiency by avoiding some of the more energy-intensive losses.”
Direct-air carbon capture is an emerging technology whereby companies aim to produce fuels or plastics from carbon that is already in the atmosphere, rather than from fossil fuels. Canadian company Carbon Engineering, which has built a pilot plant in Squamish, B.C., captures CO2 by forcing air through an alkaline liquid solution. The CO2 dissolves in the liquid, forming a substance called carbonate.
In order to be fully recycled, the dissolved carbonate is normally turned back into CO2 gas, and then into chemical building blocks that form the basis of fuels and plastics. One way to do this is to add chemicals that convert the carbonate into a solid salt. This salt powder is then heated at temperatures above 900 C to produce CO2 gas that can undergo further transformations. The energy required for this heating drives up the cost of the resulting products.