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Making Chemicals and Biofuels from Waste CO2

Posted on Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Students “fluent” in STEM will drive the future development of sustainable production processes that advance the circular economy. ARCS Foundation member Elli Nesbitt has created a three-minute educational video for Advanced Biofuels USA’s “Just a Minute” series that describes new technologies that convert waste carbon in industrial emissions into chemicals and biofuels, explaining the economic and environmental effects of such processes. The YouTube video, geared toward middle schoolers and high schoolers but informative for all viewers, is based on her working paper entitled “Using Waste Carbon Feedstocks to Produce Chemicals,” which looks at emerging carbon capture and utilization (CCU) technologies in more depth, addressing the chemical and steel industries in the United States, the European Union, and China.

Courtesy, US International Trade Commission

Carbon is an essential element of life, as well as a key element in liquid transportation fuels and many chemicals. Carbon is also a component of industrial emissions, which frequently contain carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO), and which have been a source of environmental concern. As noted in the paper, iron and steel mills, cement plants, and chemical plants are the three largest sources of mixed CO/CO2 emissions.

Manufacturers are seeking to reduce industrial emissions overall—as well as levels of CO and CO2 in the emissions—by various processes. Using the new CCU technologies to consume waste carbon can cut production costs; benefit the environment; monetize industrial emissions; and, depending on the region, allow companies to meet CO2 emissions goals.

The paper concludes that these CCU technologies are promoting a paradigm shift that has the potential to increase firm-level competitiveness for manufacturers that adopt these processes, while also reducing the environmental impact of these manufacturers.

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Disclaimer: Office of Industries working papers are the result of the ongoing professional research of US International Trade Commission (USITC) staff and solely represent the opinions and professional research of individual authors. These papers do not necessarily represent the views of the USITC or any of its individual Commissioners.