Scientists are ramping up efforts to turn waste CO2 from industry into chemicals such as methanol in a bid to reduce emissions and provide a new source of raw materials for use in fuel, cement and food production.
It’s part of a strategy to halt global warming by cutting down the amount of CO2 we vent into the air and then re-using it – a technique known as carbon capture and utilisation (CCU).
At a facility run by Carbon Recycling International (CRI) beside the picturesque Blue Lagoon in southwest Iceland, water, energy and waste carbon dioxide from a nearby geothermal power station are being used to make methanol, which can be blended with petrol to power cars or turned into a range of chemicals.
‘We take CO2 originally dissolved in the steam coming from underground and we re-use some of it as a raw material in our process,’ said Ómar Freyr Sigurbjörnsson, former research director and now head of sales and marketing at CRI.
CRI built their demo plant in 2012 and became the world’s first company to produce and sell methanol made from waste CO2. Since 2014, the plant can manufacture around 4,000 tonnes of methanol per year, which is sold in other European countries.
This amount is a drop in the ocean for now, since around 80 million tonnes of methanol are made annually. Through a project called Circle Energy, CRI is conducting a feasibility study on scaling up its operations. CRI aims to construct dozens of facilities in Europe that combine renewable energy with waste CO2 gas to make methanol, starting with a much larger facility in Norway, where it will use hydropower to make 100,000 tonnes of methanol each year. The plan is to start building soon and complete the facility by 2021.