Converting Waste Carbon Dioxide to Plastic Monomers

RenewCO2 is developing a process for the electrochemical conversion of waste CO2 to monomers. The use of CO2 to produce value-added chemicals at high energy efficiency offsets for the cost of carbon capture, produces fossil-free plastic building blocks, and mitigates industrial greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

Critical Need for this Technology

As consumer demand for sustainable products rises, the need for fossil-free alternatives for packaging with the same properties as petrochemically-sourced materials increases. RenewCO2’s electrolysis technology offers a carbon-negative monoethylene glycol (MEG) source, a drop-in replacement for petrochemical MEG with identical properties and higher purity.

MEG is one of the monomers of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), used to package food and beverages because it is hygienic, strong, resistant to attack by micro-organisms, and does not react with food products. Best of all, PET is the most recycled plastic in the United States and worldwide.

Replacement of conventional MEG production with a carbon negative production technology, such as RenewCO2’s, will result in 41 Mton/yr CO2 conversion and mitigation (0.12% of global emissions), the equivalent of 2.5 million of the average American’s annual emissions or 11% of all car emissions. While this is far from a solution to global emissions on its own, it represents a major first step for this expanding technology.

Supplemental Need for this Technology

Variable and intermittent electricity from renewable sources frequently results in peaks of production which are mismatched with consumption, which in turn can overload the grid. Electrochemical production of chemicals can leverage surplus electricity to generate revenue while stabilizing the grid. Because these processes use low temperatures, start-up and shutdown are fast and allow for the operational flexibility needed for this application.

Competition

While electrochemical CO2 reduction was discovered more than 30 years ago, the most studied catalysts require a large energy input to activate CO2 for reaction, resulting in poor process economics. Energy efficiency above 90% towards MEG has been achieved on the cathode under ambient pressure and temperature.

Potential Markets

RenewCO2’s beachhead market is comprised by existing monomer manufacturers. Public awareness of the environmental impact of plastics has driven big players such as The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, and Danone to invest in green drop-in replacements to their conventional petrochemically sourced packaging materials. As public pressure continues to increase, more suppliers will need green alternatives to plastics, preferably with the same properties as the incumbents. Current MEG consumers will be able to source a green alternative from their conventional suppliers, to whom RenewCO2 will be selling its technology.

Another customer group is comprised of companies who need to mitigate their purified CO2 emissions (e.g. from biomass fermentation or CO2 capture technology on flue-gas). In Europe, the cost of buying CO2 credits may also be avoided if producers of plastics and monomers can demonstrate a carbon negative impact of their production.

Key Innovation

The key aspect of RenewCO2’s technology is the discovery and engineering of the nickel phosphide catalysts to achieve more than 90% energy efficiency for the reduction of CO2 to C2, C3 and C4 products (e.g. monoethylene glycol, methylglyoxal and furandiol).

R & D Status of Project

The technology has been demonstrated at the lab scale, with results published in a peer-reviewed journal. Currently, RenewCO­2 is developing a continuous process, with the goal of creating a demonstration unit to be tested together with a joint development partner in 2022.

Team Overview

Karin Calvinho, CTO: Karin Calvinho is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University where she worked directly on the discovery of catalysts that can convert CO₂ into monomers. She has high-level hands-on experience in developing electrocatalysts, designing liquid-gas flow fields for electrolyzers, developing analytical methods and using operando spectroscopy to understand chemical reactivity at the molecular level.

Anders B. Laursen: Dr. Anders B. Laursen holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering with nine years of cumulative experience in electrochemistry and renewable energy storage. His experience includes electrochemical and photoelectrochemical hydrogen production (water splitting), materials synthesis, spectroscopic characterizations, and catalytic processes.

Charles Dismukes: Dr. Dismukes is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers. As an inorganic chemist and biophysicist, he has a distinguished track record in catalyst design and characterization. To date, he published 220 papers and 7 patent applications covering natural water splitting enzymes, organometallic catalysts for water oxidation, hydrogen evolution and CO2 fixation, and solid-state materials for electrocatalysis of these same reactions.

Technology Profile

Status: TRL 4 – The technology has been demonstrated in laboratory scale.
Primary industry: Chemical Industry
Category: Cleantech, Carbon capture and utilization,

Estimated annual revenue: N/A
Employs: 2 co-founders
Social challenge: Climate Change, Energy security, Sustainable Manufacturing
R&D commercial collaborator: N/A