The Chemical Industry needs carbon. Can CO2 supply?


The chemical industry needs carbon, but where we get it from is important for sustainability. Carbon dioxide (CO2) could be a viable feedstock for the sector. However, an appropriate regulatory framework and financial support will be required to realise the full potential of CO2 as an alternative carbon source. That was the message from Cefic Innovation Manager, Sophie Wilmet, to the 17th International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilisation (ICCDU 2019) held in Aachen from 23 – 27 June.

CO2 utilisation is moving steadily from research to industrial application. The Aachen conference brought together expert perspectives from industry, science and policymakers to assess the status of technologies, current and potential business models, and the supporting regulatory environment.

Wilmet’s presentation focused on the valorisation of CO2 and specifically the prospects and challenges for the chemical industry in a changing world. The use of CO2 as a chemical feedstock has been demonstrated for a wide range of processes with many already at commercial scale. The chemical industry has a clear role as a technology provider for CO2 valorisation in terms of ensuring efficient capture and purification of CO2 waste streams and in providing advanced CO2 conversion technologies.

Cefic and SusChem are involved with European initiatives, such as the Phoenix project, which show that sustainable technologies to recycle carbon from CO2 into applications, from renewable energy storage through polymers to construction materials, could support EU priorities in enabling a circular and low carbon economy, and boosting jobs and growth.

Other CO2 valorisation initiatives at national and EU level include a portfolio of technology development projects under the SPIRE programme. Capture and use of CO and CO2 is one of the four technology drivers foreseen in SPIRE’s Vision 2050 that is guiding the Public Private Partnership’s input to the next European Commission Research Framework Programme: Horizon Europe.

Moreover, Wilmet argued a common understanding of how to evaluate the impact of these developments is essential in terms of avoiding emissions and minimising energy use. This can guide the establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework that recognises the value of CO2 utilisation as an alternative carbon source.

The advancement of sustainable utilisation of CO2 needs a long-term strategy involving research and industrial policies, as well as infrastructural and logistical investments, which will result in lower environmental impacts and in a redevelopment of industry in Europe. For that to happen, support at regional, national and European level are also required, in collaborative programmes such as Horizon Europe, including continuing SPIRE initiatives, and the Innovation Fund that will make its first calls for projects in 2020.