Awareness about the environmental impact of the world’s industrial practices is increasing and has been dominating the news agenda in recent years.
It has become a priority for governments, industry leaders and scientists to come up with solutions to tackle pollution and climate change before we cause irreversible harm.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are at an all-time high due to the burning of fossil fuels and the production of electricity, fertilisers, chemicals and other materials. CO2 is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases that are one of the leading causes of climate change. Climate change, which is the shift in our planet’s weather and climate systems, has drastic and long-lasting effects on our ecosystems.
There are positive signs that the world is moving in a direction to resolve the carbon problem. Governments around the globe are introducing more sustainability measures and setting deadlines and emissions targets for businesses.
The UK, for instance, passed a law in 2019 that would end its contribution to global warming and bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Additionally, major industries are making changes to offset their carbon emissions. An increasing percentage of the transport sector is gradually eliminating diesel cars by shifting to electric vehicles.
However, the solution is not as straightforward for other industries such as cement and steel where alternatives are not readily available and cost-effective and scalable technologies are not yet developed. These sectors are struggling to meet emissions targets while consumers continue to purchase materials like single-use plastics that generate significant carbon footprints.
In facing this reality, the world will need to come up with a solution. So, what if we could live in a world where excess CO2 is not necessarily harmful, but could also be useful to us and enable positive change?
The clock is counting down for companies to adopt measures to reduce their carbon emissions. Some are turning to the storage of CO2, called Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS). This can help emissions in the short term but requires significant infrastructure build and ultimately, large deposits of carbon do not address the initial emissions issue.
Introducing Carbon Capture & Utilisation
To create a truly circular economy, we need to develop technologies that utilise the carbon found in CO2 to make the materials and products the world desires. We can get energy from renewable resources like the sun and the wind, but the sun and wind cannot produce materials – we need carbon for that. This is where a technology known as Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) comes in. CCU technologies convert the carbon from CO2 to products, so the CO2 is the starting feedstock. When CCU is paired with renewable energy it can turn an environmental issue the world shares into a business opportunity.
Advances in electrochemistry have made it possible for CO2 to be used as a feedstock to produce sustainable chemicals and materials. CO2 can be taken out of the air via Direct Air Capture (DAC) or from large industrial emissions. This CO2 can then be converted to high value ingredients, chemical building blocks and fuels that our society relies on.
CCU technologies have the potential to produce products for a broad range of industries, from beauty and personal care products to packaging and even jet fuel – all made without a single drop of oil pumped from the ground.
A Circular, Sustainable Future
While consumers can do their part to reduce carbon waste, most manufacturing processes used today will continue to release CO2 into the atmosphere. But now, with exciting technologies like CCU, we can combat the negative effects of excess greenhouse gases and resource depletion to create a perfectly circular economy.
The answers we’ve been looking for can be found and CCU can succeed with a strong, collective global effort to enable us to move towards a brighter, more sustainable way of life.
About the Authors
Together, Dr. Klaas Jan Schouten and Dr. Erica Ording lead VOLTA, the electrochemistry technology platform of Avantium. Avantium’s Volta technology is a platform technology that uses electrochemistry to convert CO2 to high value products and chemical building blocks such as Glyoxylic Acid and Glycolic Acid. These products are predominantly used in cosmetics and polyesters. Converting CO2to high-value chemicals
Featured image: ©Lobochad