How to make sustainable CO2 conversion to Methanol: Thermocatalytic versus electrocatalytic technology

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Electrocatalytic (EC) and thermocatalytic (TC) conversion of CO2 to methanol are promising carbon capture and utilization technologies. Herein, these CO2-to-methanol conversion processes are analysed in terms of technical, environmental and economic feasibility. To this purpose, the catalytic performance of the same catalyst (CuO/ZnO/Al2O3) was evaluated in both EC and TC processes. Here is showed for the first time that this catalyst is (apart from TC route) also able to generate methanol through CO2 EC reduction. This work presents lab scale tests, scaled-up simulations and evaluates the environmental and economic performance of these processes. The carbon footprint of the TC and EC processes, scaled-up to the same productivity of ~ 3 kg/h methanol, scored ~ 8 kgCO2 eq/kgCH3OH. Strategies to reduce this impact are presented, such as improving the current density of the EC cell (i.e. 200 mA/cm2 results in a reduction of 68% to 2.72 kgCO2 eq/kgCH3OH) and the availability of 100% renewable electricity (saving up to 62% carbon footprint of both processes). Considering an effective allocation of the methanol productivity on a real market scenario, both the TC and EC processes would start to be economically competitive at methanol productivities > 19.1 kg/h and 3.3 kg/h, respectively. Moreover, if O2 valorisation, a low price of the renewable electricity and a carbon tax are considered, the economic profitability will rise; e.g. the minimum levelised cost of product (LCOP of 1.45 €/kg and 1.67 €/kg, respectively) could be reduced by 53%. Finally, our results pointed out that the CO2 electroreduction process must be optimized (e.g. improving catalysts performance and EC cell design reducing mass transfer limitations) to achieve industrially relevant rates and the maturity of the thermocatalytic technology.
Life cycle assessment (LCA), Co2 hydrogenation, Electroreduction, Methanol, Ternary oxides, Synthetic fuels, Power-to-fuels
Bibliographic citation
Chemical Engineering Journal, (2021), 417:127973.