CO2-to-Methanol plant in Anyang, China
CO2-to-Methanol plant. Photo provided by Carbon Recycling International.

Recycling CO2 will help minimising climate effects

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about carbon storage as an important step in limiting climate change. In Norway for instance, oil companies are co-operating to store CO2 on the Norwegian seabed.

Ainara Nova, who researches CO2 conversion, believes this approach is a short-term solution:

“A lot of resources are being put into capturing CO2. The example from Norway of oil companies co-operating to store CO2 in porous reservoirs beneath the Norwegian seabed is a problematic approach. It's expensive, and besides the fact that you don't get rid of the CO2, you have to monitor the storage as well. Therefore, the Nordic countries should also prioritise the development of new carbon capture and utilisation technologies as a long-term sustainable solution.”

Nova is a researcher at the University of Oslo and the University of Tromsø, and the head of the Nordic Consortium for CO2 Conversion (NordCO2) – a network for Nordic researchers working on chemical CO2 conversion in the Nordic countries.

She explains that CO2 is a sustainable and cheap raw material that can be converted into other products. For example, it can be converted to methanol, which in turn can be used for fuel and other products.

“A green transition can contribute reducing carbon emissions, but it will not be sufficient. To help reduce climate emissions in an economical sustainable manner and facilitate the transition to clean energy sources, it is essential to recycle the CO2. One of the main challenges is that doing this on an industrial scale is very resource intensive.”

NordCO2 unites 12 research groups at nine universities from five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Ainara Nova is the leader of the consortium.

One example is in Iceland, where Carbon Recycling International (CRI) was the first company to produce renewable methanol from CO2 and electrolytic hydrogen at an industrial scale. In 2022, CRI delivered the world’s largest CO2 to methanol plant in Anyang in China, with a capacity to produce 110,000 tonnes of methanol per year. According to CRI, the facility can capture 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, which is equivalent to taking more than 60,000 cars off the road.

Similar initiatives can be found in other Nordic countries, although not on such a scale. This is partly because CO2 conversion is very resource-intensive:

“The challenge of implementing these processes in bulk scales is their substantial energy requirements for an efficient CO2 reduction. Furthermore, this energy must originate from renewable sources. Unfortunately, access to large amounts of pure CO2 and sustainable energy is challenging. We must therefore work to further develop the technology” Nova says.

Building expertise in CO2 conversion processes

The aim of NORDCO2 is to build expertise in CO2 conversion processes at the Nordic level. Since 2017, the network has worked to promote knowledge exchange, initiate novel scientific collaborations, jointly train Nordic students, and organise outreach activities.

NordCO2 has published over 70 publications involving different NordCO2 research groups, and these works have been cited more than 1,500 times. This number is an indication of the increase in scientific quality that NordCO2 has generated through Nordic co-operation, and several NordCO2 groups have received European funding on collaborative projects related to CO2 conversion.

What the Nordic countries should do

In the recently published NordForsk report Fast Track to Vision 2030, the researchers from the consortium present their recommendations for future CO2 management in the Nordic countries. They recommend that the Nordic countries:

  • invest heavily in research to identify new carbon capture and utilisation technologies. Existing technologies are not sufficient.
  • invest more in creating multiple mission-driven Centres of Excellence that aim to reduce carbon emission, decentralise carbon capture and exploit chemistry and biology for the conversion of CO2 into valuable chemicals and fuels.
  • inform society about the challenges of carbon capture storage and utilization (CCSU), the investments planned for CCSU facilities and the need for highly educated people to solve these challenges.

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