6 Ideas for Recycling Carbon

You might have heard of carbon capture and storage — the idea of taking greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants and industrial sources and then piping them underground or into contained sites for long term storage. But how about carbon capture and conversion?

Envisioned as a kind of recycling at massive scale, that’s the technology that has just scored $4.4 million from the Department of Energy. If the six research projects awarded funding this week pan out, they could eventually enable tons of captured carbon to be put to use as a building block for chemicals, fuels, concrete and other products. Here’s what the DOE-backed researchers have in the works:

Research Triangle Institute: Based in Durham, N.C., RTI has been awarded $800,000 (and will contribute $200,000) to assess the feasibility of using CO2 in chemical reactions (specifically, as a reductant or electron donor) to produce carbon monoxide, or CO. From there, the group plans to research whether carbon monoxide can be used to make chemicals like aldehydes, which are commonly used to make resins, dyes and perfumes, as well as ketones, carbonates and esters.

CCS Materials, Inc.: This company aims to use captured emissions to create a less energy-intensive substitute for what’s called Portland cement, the basic ingredient of concrete. The DOE awarded the Piscataway, New Jersey-based company $794,000 to work on the project over three years, and CCS Materials will contribute $545,100.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT plans to put its $1 million DOE award over the next two years toward a project researching an “integrated capture and conversion process.” The technology would take CO2 from power plants and other industrial sources, and then use it as a raw material for chemicals meant to replace products typically derived from petroleum. MIT will cover $250,067 of project costs.

Brown University: With its $417,155 award, Brown is looking to demonstrate a reaction that uses CO2 and ethylene to produce acrylate compounds, which are commonly used in plastics. The university will share $107,460 of project costs.

McGill University (collaborating with 3H Company): Like CCS Materials, this team plans to tackle part of the energy-intensive task of making concrete. McGill and Lexington, Kentucky-based 3H will be studying a a low-cost technology for absorbing CO2, and developing a curing process for the pre-cast concrete industry that uses carbon dioxide as a reactant. (Pre-cast concrete is moulded and cured in a controlled environment and then shipped to a construction site, rather than being poured into forms on-site.) The DOE has awarded $399,960 for the 2-year proejct, and McGill has agreed to a $100,000 cost share.

PhosphorTech Corporation: This Lithia Springs, Georgia-based company has secured $998,661 in DOE funds and will share $249,847 in project costs over three years developing and demonstrating an electrochemical process that uses “the entire solar spectrum” and converts CO2 into products such as methane gas.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Rennett Stowe

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