The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award approximately $6.7 million in federal funding for cost-shared projects that will develop technologies that utilize CO2 from coal-fired power plants to produce useful products. DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy is seeking these projects as part of the Department’s Carbon Storage program, which has the goal of developing and advancing technologies to improve the effectiveness of carbon storage, reduce the cost of implementation, and be ready for widespread commercial deployment in the 2025–2035 timeframe.
After carbon dioxide is captured from large point sources, such as coal-fired power plants, it can be injected into underground geological formations from which it cannot escape (geologic sequestration). Another option is to use the CO2 as a reagent to create useful products, such as cement, plastics, or liquid fuels. The new DOE funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0001622) focuses on the second of these pathways which is focused on securing applications for projects that will develop CO2-utilization technologies that produce useful products at lower cost than currently available technologies, without generating additional greenhouse gas emissions.
CO2 is already a commodity chemical that is used in many commercial applications. However, the current commercial utilization of CO2 is small compared to total CO2 emissions, and CO2 is often emitted to the atmosphere after use. Research has shown that CO2 can be converted to a variety of commodities, but because of the low energy state of CO2, the production costs would be prohibitive in many cases. Research in this area is intended to develop or improve methods for producing commodities with CO2 as a feedstock.—DE-FOA-0001622
Awards made from the FOA will validate the concept, estimate the technology cost, and demonstrate that the carbon lifecycle of the products can offer a true carbon reduction.
The funding opportunity announcement has three areas of interest:
- Biological based concepts for beneficial use of CO2
- Mineralization concepts utilizing CO2 with industrial wastes
- Novel physical and chemical processes for beneficial use of carbon
Projects are sought from developers of technologies that have proven their process to be viable for scale-up, but have specific technical barriers as discussed below that, if solved, could improve the economics and support the commercialization of their technologies.
This topic area also seeks to support research that will develop technology approaches that will improve the efficiency of the systems and the production of useable products, especially those approaches identified as having the greatest potential to help boost the commodity CO2 market while reducing GHG emissions.
Bioconversion options not focused on the production of bulk commodities, such as fuels and chemicals are not considered appropriate target applications. However, the FOA is open to applications that are configured for biorefining, producing a slate of products that include small-volume, high-value products in addition to the production of bulk commodities. For the purpose of this FOA, biological utilization applications should be limited to aquatic species, such as microalgae and blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). The cultivation of terrestrial plants is not of interest at this time, nor is biological sequestration.
DOE is aware that some algae species can use NOx as a source of nutritional nitrogen. While testing of a gas stream that has not undergone NOx removal is not excluded from this FOA, such testing should only be considered as part of an experimental sensitivity analysis and is not being required by DOE. Testing and evaluation of organisms grown on flue gas derived from natural gas or other fuels, or on a high-purity CO2 stream as might be encountered in fermentation processes are not of primary interest for this FOA. However, they may be considered in order to establish a baseline for making comparisons with results from coal-derived flue gas.Mineralization concepts utilizing CO2 with industrial wastes. The objective of this topic area is to support technology development for innovative concepts that utilize CO2 to react with industrial wastes, such as tailings from mining operations (e.g., coal, metals, etc.), to stabilize the CO2 in mineral form that will result in salable products and/or recovery of valuable minerals or chemicals from these waste materials.
DOE previously supported research in CO2 mineralization which was focused only on the reaction of CO2 with serpentine minerals to permanently store the materials in a form that was disposable. Many of the waste stream tailings from previous mining operations have gone through extensive pre-processing that will be necessary to enhance the reaction with CO2. Mining waste also contains trace amounts of valuable materials (i.e., metals, other elements, hydrocarbons, etc.) that could be recovered while reacting CO2 with minerals, such as manganese and calcium to permanently store CO2 as carbonate rocks. Other industrial waste streams have to react with CO2 to form high-value chemicals and other products that might fixate CO2 (along with other waste streams) for permanent storage.Novel physical and chemical processes for beneficial use of carbon. The objective of this topic area is to demonstrate innovative concepts for beneficial CO2 use via novel physical and/or chemical conversion processes, which include high energy systems and nano-engineered catalysts that can transform CO2 into valuable products and chemicals (i.e., carbon fibers or plastics) while significantly reducing the energy demand/over potential required for the conversion process.
There exists some novel approaches to breaking the bonds between carbon and oxygen to generate carbon monoxide (CO), oxygen (O2), and/or elemental carbon that can be used as building blocks for the chemical industry. Research needs are focused on reducing energy demand, low cost materials or process designs, reaction stabilization to inhibit reverse reactions, process design, integration with the coal-fired power plant or other industrial source, and products certification. These approaches are expected to be early Technology Readiness Levels, typically 2-3.