Industry and government should start planning for the deployment of CO2 utilization systems that enable a circular economy, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The study looks at the state of infrastructure for carbon transport, use, and storage, and provides an overview of the current limitations, and the opportunities ahead of CO2 utilization.
“Though it is still a nascent industry, carbon dioxide utilization can effectively support the transition away from fossil carbon by providing pathways for sustainable synthesis of many carbon-based chemicals and materials that society needs,” said Emily A. Carter, Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, senior strategic advisor for sustainability science at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and chair of the committee behind the report. “However, care should be taken to ensure that the build-out of the industry’s infrastructure and transport systems involves early and ongoing community engagement.”
Producing products from captured carbon usually requires more energy than using carbon from fossil fuels. The high energy requirement, in combination with the lack of incentives for the production of net-zero emissions products, is what currently limits the commercialization of CO2 utilization, the report said.
Another limitation comes from the fact that most of the current infrastructure is used for enhanced oil recovery and links sources and sinks of carbon dioxide that mostly do not align with sustainable utilization opportunities. According to the report, the repurposing of natural gas pipelines for CO2 would require case-by-case analysis and retrofitting costs.
The research put products produced through carbon utilization into two categories based on their estimated lifetimes and said the two groups should have different requirements for net-zero compatibility. Products with a lifetime of 100 years or more, such as concrete, aggregates, and some polymers, could be considered durable carbon storage options and thus could be produced from both fossil and non-fossil sources, the report said. Products with shorter lifespans such as chemicals and fuels should be produced using renewable sources in order to be net-zero compatible.
The report identified two two priority near-term opportunities for carbon dioxide utilization infrastructure investment: sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and roads and concrete construction.