Michigan Engineering News

Volker Sick, director of the Global CO2 Initiative

An international effort launches to determine best CO2 utilization technologies

Economic and environmental guidelines will support new industries and climate solutions.

Demonstrating piece of bendable concrete infused with CO2 undergoes a tensile test.
Volker Sick, director of the Global CO2 Initiative, and Victor Li, the James R. Rice Distinguished University Professor of Engineering and E. Benjamin Wylie Collegiate Professor of Civil Engineering, watch as a piece of bendable concrete infused with CO2 undergoes a tensile test. Li’s technology would sequester atmospheric CO2 in concrete. Photo: Joseph Xu/Michigan Engineering

A tool to identify promising carbon dioxide utilization technologies will be expanded and advanced through a $1.5 million project funded by the Global CO2 Initiative at the University of Michigan (GCI-UM) and Climate-KIC, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s Climate Knowledge & Innovation Community.

Carbon dioxide capture and utilization technologies aim to remove greenhouse gases from the air and turn it into useful, profitable products. Such technologies range from reforestation to direct air capture and further use of the captured biomass or carbon dioxide.

The tool, the Techno-Economic and Life Cycle Assessment (TEA/LCA) Guidelines for CO2 utilization technologies, is one-of-a-kind in scope and designed to evaluate various approaches to this strategy to mitigate climate change.

The new project, ‘CO2nsistent’, will run for three years, fund a team of researchers, and seek to deepen and broaden a first generation of guidelines that were established by the initial project partners in 2018. It will also continue to support current industries and researchers developing these new technologies and applications.  

“We have an opportunity to accelerate the development and deployment of CO2 utilization technologies. This requires well-informed decisions and for that we need to have harmonized, robust assessments to guide research, investment, and policymaking. We must know upfront, before deployment, that new technologies will be carbon negative and dollar positive,” stated Volker Sick, director of the Global CO2 Initiative at the University of Michigan, professor of mechanical engineering and an Arthur F. Thurnau professor.

The joint announcement was made at a workshop that was organized and conducted in partnership with National Energy Technology Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Volans. The workshop was attended by over 100 CO2 utilization technology experts, industry representatives, policymakers, and members of the public. Participants set out to explore next-generation needs to inform future metrics, best practices, validation, and other steps toward building a harmonized global toolkit for measuring and reporting on carbon dioxide utilization or removal.

Comprehensive, consistent, and transparent TEA/LCA assessments, integrated into the policy landscape, will accelerate funding decisions and promote sustainability-driven technology development. Currently, no standardized TEA and LCA methods have been adopted, so studies cannot easily be compared, risking sub-optimal decisions.

“The ‘CO2nsistent’ project builds on research and innovations previously funded by EIT Climate-KIC. It reflects the need for making existing knowledge and methodologies broadly accessible beyond Europe. Enabling comparability and transparency of a diverse set of solutions at the global scale through factual information will be crucial for regulatory processes, public acceptance and to direct investments to applications with the highest climate change mitigation impact,” said Climate-KIC’s Sira Saccani, director of sustainable production systems.

As this nascent technology space continues to rapidly gain momentum among academia, industry, and governments seeking solutions to reduce carbon emissions and create new circular business opportunities, these guidelines aim to harmonize approaches to measure further investments and commercialization. Similar approaches are conducted across many technology sectors, including the early days of electric vehicle R&D and identifying the best battery technologies to advance and scale.

An anticipated end-user and industry supporter of the toolkit, Christoph Gürtler of Covestro, a world-leading manufacturer of high-tech polymer materials, said, “It is my belief that a timely analysis of potentially new processes on CO2 utilization using an aligned and harmonized TEA/LCA approach is the key for making the most of given R&D resources – leveraging value and avoiding costly detours.”

The guideline documents the CO2nsistent project produces will be open access, as will a series of example studies. Stakeholders and practitioners will be involved throughout the project in a range of workshops and webinars.

View the first series of guidelines and supporting partners.

The Global CO2 Initiative at the University of Michigan develops and drives the deployment of technologies and solutions that can capture and convert carbon dioxide into a commodity. Our goal is to reduce the equivalent of 10 percent of current atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions annually by 2030 through the commercialization of CO2-based products that have the capability of being “carbon negative, dollar positive.” The Global CO2 Initiative at the University of Michigan brings together critical stakeholders from various disciplines to discover breakthrough innovations and solve complex sustainability challenges at a local and global level. Follow the Global CO2 Initiative at @reuseCO2.

EIT Climate-KIC is a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, we identify and support innovation that helps society mitigate and adapt to climate change. We believe that a decarbonized, sustainable economy is not only necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, but presents a wealth of opportunities for business and society.