If we can recycle all CO2 into useful products, why are we dumping it into the atmosphere?

There are three aspects to this question. Firstly, much of the CO2 is generated in a decentralized way and is therefore hard to recover for centralized work-up. Cars and local heating systems burning fossil fuel are good examples of decentralized CO2 generation. However, there are central CO2 emission location (power plants, iron and aluminium production locations, etc.) that would be ideally suited to collect and reuse CO2.

Secondly, the utilization of CO2 has only recently become interesting due to the reduction in available fossil fuel reserves and the (acceptance of) negative impact of CO2 emissions on the environment. Most of the (chemical) industry is still based on fossil fuels as raw material and the production of chemicals from fossil fuels has been and still is difficult to compete against on a cost basis. Reusing CO2, however, can both prevent emissions into the atmosphere and reduce the dependency on fossil fuels.

Thirdly, the recycling of CO2 is challenging because it is energy intensive in both the amount of energy and the type of energy needed to recycle all of the emitted CO2.


World energy consumption

Figure: World energy consumption trend (source: BP)


What are potential uses of glycerol carbonate?

There are many potential uses for glycerol carbonate. For direct use (no further modification required) of the compound, consider its use as an electrolyte in batteries, as part of a coating in paints, as a non-polar solvent, as a valuable additive to cosmetics and personal care products and as a constituent in soaps. The use as intermediate is the most promising however. From a technical perspective the bifunctional properties of glycerol carbonate make it interesting for use as a chemical intermediate in the production of polymers and complex chemicals. As a green raw material it will assist in the reduction of the environmental impact of these polymers and complex chemicals.


What will be the impact of CyclicCO2R 20 years from now?

With running the risk of claiming to predict the future, we expect that glycerol carbonate in 20 years will be a mainstream fine chemical (intermediate) having outgrown its niche market properties. Consumers will see glycerol carbonate as a component in their cosmetics, batteries and personal care products. However, the impact from the processes we develop will be larger. The challenges we have to tackle are challenges that are at the basis of many CO2 utilization technologies and overcoming these challenges will make further utilization of CO2 in other chemical production lines easier to be economically and environmentally sound.


If we can recycle CO2, can we stop worrying about global warming?

This question should be stated differently. Global climate change and warming is caused by the accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere and the subsequent increase in heat captured from the sun. The current levels of CO2 are high enough to already start increasing the temperature levels for the coming decades. If we are able to recycle all the CO2 we produce, it will still take years for the CO2 levels to drop to normal. Furthermore, CO2 is the most important green house gas, but there are others such as methane and nitrous oxides. So the answer would be: When we recycle all CO2, we still have to worry about global warming, but future generations might not have to.


Figure: Temperature and CO2 emission trend (source: IPCC)


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