PNNL scientists create system to convert captured carbon to methanol

Published on January 26, 2023 by Liz Carey

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Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) announced they had created a system that efficiently and cost-effectively captures carbon dioxide and converts it to methanol – one of the world’s most widely used chemicals.

The process, scientists said, captures carbon dioxide before it floats into the atmosphere. Additionally, the system is the lowest-cost method of capture to date, which can help to overcome barriers for large emitters to use commercial capture technologies. Additionally, scientists said, the ability to process the carbon dioxide into methanol can provide another incentive as it can be sold to or repurposed in manufacturing plastics, paint, construction materials, and car parts.

The process reduces the cost of capturing carbon dioxide to less than $40 per metric ton. By taking flue gas from power plants, the process uses a PNNL-patented solvent to strip carbon dioxide out of the gas, then converts it to methanol.

“Instead of extracting oil from the ground to make these chemicals, we’re trying to do it from CO2 captured from the atmosphere or from coal plants, so it can be reconstituted into useful things,” said PNNL chemist David Heldebrant. “You’re keeping carbon alive, so to speak, so it’s not just ‘pull it out of the ground, use it once, and throw it away.’ We’re trying to recycle the CO2, much like we try to recycle other things like glass, aluminum, and plastics.”

The new system is designed to fit into coal-, gas-, or biomass-fired power plants, as well as cement kilns and steel plants, researchers wrote in an article in the Advanced Energy Materials journal. Deploying the technology, researchers said, will reduce emissions, as well as help stir the development of other carbon capture technology and establish a market for materials containing carbon dioxide.