By Loredana Ghinea A.SPIRE Executive Director
Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's carbon cycle. However, recently it has been declared the planet’s public enemy number one and how to deal with it is a subject of great controversy.
Still, what should not be a controversy is that CO2 is the only abundant non-fossil carbon resource available in Europe; and, with technological innovation making it possible, starting to actually valorise CO2 could play a vital role in the decarbonisation of industry and in establishing a truly circular economy in Europe through industrial symbiosis. The SPIRE (Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency) Public-Private Partnership has taken on this angle and has built up a comprehensive roadmap showing how to address resource and energy efficiency in the process industry up to 2030, including giving CO2 a value.
CO2 conversion technologies can contribute to meeting ambitious EU targets for energy. They can increase the share of energy produced from renewable resources through large-scale energy storage via Power to Gas technologies (producing methane for storage in existing gas networks) and Power to Liquid technologies (producing liquid energy carriers such as methanol). These technologies can also provide advanced sustainable alternative fuels with a CO2 reduction potential of more than 70%, making a CO2-based fuel car comparable to an electric vehicle.
Many sectors in SPIRE, including cement, chemicals, engineering and steel, are actively involved in the development of new CO2 conversion technologies.The steel sector is developing new technologies that combine excess hydrogen with CO2 rich industrial flue gases via biochemical and catalytic conversion to produce valuable hydrocarbons. Already the use of CO2 as a renewable resource has been demonstrated in the manufacture of polymers with a reduced CO2 footprint. In the cement sector, innovative processes and products using CO2 enable the production of a new type of concrete with a reduced CO2 footprint (up to 70%) as compared to traditional Portland cement.
A longer term option is the direct photo-conversion of CO2 from ambient air via ‘artificial photosynthesis’. This would be a major technological breakthrough leading to new CO2 conversion technologies using only air and sunlight to produce chemicals and fuels.
Achieving widespread uptake of CO2 as an alternative carbon resource to produce chemicals, materials, fuels and store energy also requires a stable and appropriate policy framework in the areas of energy, transport and circular economy as they are developed at the EU and national levels. It is essential that the legislative system is adapted to define products using CO2 as a resource, as renewable-based products (such as through the Circular economy and Energy Union packages). To attract investment and gain the environmental and social benefits there must be no distinction between CO2 of biological origin and other CO2 streams. Policies that encourage inter-sectorial use of CO2 also need to be put in place.
As Executive Director of the A.SPIRE association since 2012, Loredana Ghinea has been leading the ambitious industrial efforts towards the launch and implementation of the contractual Public-Private Partnership SPIRE (Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and energy Efficiency), a multi-billion euro instrument of the Horizon2020 framework programme working across eight major European industry sectors: cement, ceramics, chemicals, engineering, minerals, non-ferrous metals, steel, and water. These sectors together represent over 450 000 individual enterprises making up around 20% of the European economy. They employ 6.8 million people and generate over EUR 1 600 billion turnover annually.
SPIRE’s goal is to promote the deployment of the innovative technologies and solutions required to reach long term sustainability in Europe’s process industries while boosting their global competitiveness.