A New Circular Carbon Economy for a Sustainable Future: CO2 Conversion to Chemicals, Fuels and Materials using Renewable Energy

For over a century, the society has dumped waste CO2 into the atmosphere, oblivious to its damage to the environment. Whereas other waste “spills” are directly remediated (e.g., Gulf Oil Spill of 2010) by concerted actions, widespread dumping of CO2 to the atmosphere remains a staple of modern society. This is because ending this large-scale practice requires a massive reinvention of the global economy. Specifically, we need to create a cyclic CO2 economy, whereby we mine CO2 from the air and store it to create negative emissions, while converting a fraction of it to goods required by humanity. Because CO2 in the air is globally uniform, this resource is equitably available to the whole planet.

The LCSE core faculty members aim to create a New Circular Carbon Economy by capturing and converting greenhouse gas CO2 into platform molecules for current and future fuels, chemicals and polymers, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals needed by humanity in a carbon neutral, and eventually, carbon negative manner. Coupling direct air capture CO2 with a hybrid electro-bio catalytic CO2 conversion technology is a truly transformational approach towards negative emission technologies (NETs) that has a great potential to achieve great carbon and energy efficiencies. A cyclic carbon economy was not possible in the past, since it requires cost effective renewable energy. With the recent rapid deployment of solar and wind energy, there is now a great synergy between renewable energy and CO2-to-chemicals and fuels technologies to replace fossil carbons in our materials, chemicals and fuel with CO2 harvested from the air.

Our convergent research toward circular carbon engineering aims to integrate DAC, bio- and electro-chemical disciplines to create highly integrated, hybrid reaction systems (illustrated in Figure1 ) that can work with intermittent renewable energy. We focus on developing novel multi-functional DAC materials, bio/electro-catalysts, and integrated systems needed to capture CO2 from the air, purify it, and deliver it to liquid media, where hybrid electrochemical and biological reactions will convert the CO2 into platform molecules and products using renewable energy and carbon-free hydrogen.

Circular Carbon Economy

Related projects:

  • Development of NOHMs-based Electrolyte Systems for Combined CO2 Capture and Conversion (LCSE PI: Alissa Park)
  • Dual-functional Materials for Direct Air Capture of CO2 and Its Conversion (LCSE PI: Bob Farrauto)
  • Collaborative Research: AccelNet: Sustainable Capture and Conversion of CO2 to Chemicals and Fuels using Renewable Electrons (SCO2RE) (LCSE PIs: Alissa Park, Jingguang Chen, collaboration with Jeff Reimer at UC Berkeley)