Turning CO2 in value-added chemicals


The chemical industry is the largest industrial consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Reducing the industry's overall dependence on so-called petrochemicals to reduce the greenhouse effect is one of the great scientific challenges of our time. Using waste CO2 (as an alternative carbon feedstock) and transforming it into value-added chemicals, also known as Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU), has the potential to address this challenge. This will result in new business opportunities for the chemical industry. With the support of CATALISTI, the Flemish Government recently provided a significant boost to establish a technology platform for CCU by funding three research projects for a total budget of 6 million euro.

The CO2PERATE(1) project aims to develop catalytic technologies to convert CO2 into formic acid, using renewable electricity. Formic acid will subsequently be used as building block for the biosynthetic production of value added chemicals, as a building block for the chemical industry, or as a potential carrier for energy storage. A decision support framework will be developed to select the best available technology for CO2 utilization within a given techno-economic context. 

The CATCO2RE project focuses on the conversion of CO2 to methane and methanol using solar energy, integrating new developments in the production of solar hydrogen with catalyst design and state-of-the-art separation technologies, allowing for the integrated production of solar fuels. Both research projects gather a multidisciplinary team of scientists from several Flemish research institutes, and involve an industrial advisory board who are eager to implement the results and create economic valorisation. 

The CAPRA(2) project aims to develop an anaerobic biological process technology for converting undistilled syngas fermentation products to a bio-oil of medium-chain carboxylic acids, that can serve as feedstock for the production of added-value chemicals. This project matches a demand from two industries: the steel-making industry (ArcelorMittal), that is looking for opportunities to valorize waste gases, and the chemical industry (Proviron), that is looking for alternative and sustainable sources of carboxylic acids as building blocks for the production of chemicals. The development of the biological process technology will be performed jointly by Ghent University and OWS. A life-cycle assessment (Ghent University and OWS) and techno-economic assessment (VITO) will highlight the feasibility and environmental benefits of the CAPRA process technology.

Apart from these recently approved 'Flemish' projects, some Interreg and European projects in which Flemish partners are actively involved were also recently approved. Among these projects are:

  • EnOp (Interreg) 
  • E2C (Interreg) 
  • MicroSync (NWO) 
  • Carbon4PUR (EU) 
  • BioRECO2VER (EU) 
  • BIOCON-CO2 (EU) 

The potentially new business models originating from CO2 utilization within all these projects are expected to contribute significantly to economic and sustainable growth in Flanders and Europe's circular economy.