Carbon dioxide utilization (CO2U) technologies are a sub-set of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies and refer to the productive use of anthropogenic CO2 to make value-added products such as building materials, synthetic fuels, chemicals, and plastics. CCUS have been deployed around the world at large-scale and are seen as a crucial tool to decarbonize the world’s economy. As well as storing CO2 in the subsurface, there has been increasing interest in its utilization. CO2U can promote not only a more circular economy but also, in some cases, result in products with enhanced properties or processes with lower feedstock costs.
The CO2U industry has gained momentum as a solution to achieve the world’s ambitious climate goals. Many pre-commercial projects are currently operating or under construction, mostly concentrated in Europe and North America, with more in the pipeline supported by public and private investments. Although still in its infancy, the market pull is coming from the users – businesses and individuals are reportedly creating demand for low-carbon products.
This report provides a comprehensive outlook of the global CO2 utilization industry, with an in-depth analysis of the technological, economic, and environmental aspects that are set to shape this emerging market over the next twenty years. IDTechEx considers CO2 use cases in enhanced oil recovery, building materials, liquid and gaseous fuels, polymers, chemicals, and in biological yield-boosting (crop greenhouses, algae, and fermentation), exploring the technology innovations and opportunities within each area. The report also includes a twenty-year granular forecast for the deployment of 11 CO2U product categories, alongside 20+ interview-based company profiles.
Emerging applications of CO2 utilization: inputs, manufacturing pathways, and products made from CO2. Source: IDTechEx.
The options are diverse
Despite its potential to create a market for waste CO2, not all CO2U technologies are created equal. These systems face a range of economic, technical, and regulatory challenges which need to be carefully considered so that the technologies that actually provide climate benefits – and are economically viable – can be prioritized and pursued. For instance, for many CO2U routes, the CO2 sequestration is only temporary with the CO2 utilized being released to the atmosphere once the product is consumed (e.g., CO2-derived fuels or proteins), whilst for others, the CO2 can be stored permanently (e.g., CO2-derived building materials). On the economic side, many CO2U pathways can be considerably more expensive than their fossil-based counterparts due to high energy requirements, low yields, or need of other expensive feedstock (e.g., green hydrogen, catalysts). The report provides insights into the most promising processes being developed in CO2U, highlighting the pros and cons of each pathway and end-product.
Innovative companies across the world are developing technologies to improve the energy efficiency of CO2 conversion processes and reduce their costs. The report gives an overview of these players’ latest developments, with first-hand accounts of the challenges and opportunities within the industry.
The highest potential areas
Successful deployment for CO2-based polymers saw considerable growth in recent years, especially in Europe and Asia, with more than 250 thousand metric tons of CO2 already used in polymer manufacturing annually worldwide (based on currently operating plants). IDTechEx expects the sector to continue to expand, even though its climate mitigation potential is limited, mainly due to its intrinsic low CO2 utilization ratio (volume of CO2 per volume of CO2-derived product).
Construction materials, fuels, and commodity chemicals (e.g., methanol, ethanol, olefins) offer vast potential for CO2 utilization, but this will not be realized without development of an extensive CO2 network linking capture sites to usage sites, widespread deployment of clean energy, or regulatory support (e.g., sustainable fuel mandates). CO2-derived construction products in particular – such as concrete and aggregates – are set to gain considerable market share due to its helpful thermodynamics and ability to sequester CO2 permanently.
The niche areas
The solid carbon (e.g., carbon nanotubes, carbon fiber, diamonds) and protein sectors will remain niche applications of CO2 utilization, despite their high market value, due to, respectively, the small size of the market (in volumes) and fierce competition from incumbents. Waste CO2 utilization in algae cultivation is still in the early stages, and many hurdles need to be addressed before commodity-scale applications become a reality.