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Electricity makes carbon environmentally friendly

Published: 7 October 2016

Researchers at Luleå University of Technology are developing a groundbreaking new technology for the capture and desorption of carbon dioxide (CO₂) from flue gas, which thereafter will be converted into chemicals, beneficial for society. The highly concentrated, captured CO₂ will be converted to chemicals, by using environmentally friendly electricity and microorganisms.
The experiments are carried out in collaboration with the SSAB steel mill in Luleå.

– We will use biological methods to enhance the capture of carbon dioxide and by using electricity convert it into high-value products that society needs, says Magnus Sjöblom, researcher in Biochemical Process Engineering, at Luleå University of Technology.

Will reduce carbon emissions

The steel industry in Europe has an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and therefore also for the EU emissions trading. In Sweden, the steel mills account for a large emissions of CO₂ within the industrial sector.

The carbon dioxide will be catched

In recent decades, measures to reduce carbon emissions mainly focused on the capture and storage of CO₂. Now scientists at Luleå University of Technology, go a step further. Instead of storing carbon emissions, researchers want to convert these emissions into products that society needs. Therefore, it is valuable to Luleå University of Technology to get access to the SSAB steel mill gases and the company's expertise in this field. Now, researchers at Luleå University of Technology in cooperation with SSAB, runs a pilot plant in the chemical engineering lab at the university. In that lab, the groundbreaking technology for the capture and desorption of carbon dioxide (CO₂) is tested, in two stages. The first step involves the capture and desorption of CO₂ from the flue gases. The second step is about the production of useful chemicals from highly concentrated CO₂.

– If the technology works in our pilot plant it can then be converted for use on a larger scale.This is a first step in a much more ambitious and forward-looking innovation from our side. We aim to show that it is possible to create a new technology platform for the production of complex chemicals, says Magnus Sjöblom.

Carbon dioxide is formic acid with electricity and bacteria

The main aim of the researchers at Luleå University of Technology, is now, to develope an applicable technology for carbon capture from flue gases from the steel industry with effective enzymes, which have high capture capacity and high stability in extreme environments, such as high temperatures. A suitable candidate among the enzymes to separate the carbon dioxide, is the enzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA) which in synergy with the enzyme formate dehydrogenase (FDH) can convert CO₂ and intermittent electrical energy ((periodic excess energy from for example, hydroelectric or solar)for example solarenergy) to chemical compounds that can be stored and used when needed. Primarily the researchers want to transform the highly concentrated carbon dioxide to formic acid.

– While formic acid itself is a useful industrial chemical and is an important raw material, formic acid can also be biocatalytically converted into methanol or other chemicals with simple structures. Perhaps most important is that formic acid represents a possible carrier for storage and transport of hydrogen which in turn could enable easy and safe distribution of hydrogen based energy in society, says Magnus Sjöblom.

The EU's objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 emission levels. The level of ambition requires substantial cuts in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, especially from those sectors responsible for the highest emissions in Europe.

Partners in this project are SSAB and SEKAB E-Technology AB.



Kontakt: Magnus Sjöblom, 0920-49 10 12 , forskare inom biokemisk processteknik vid Luleå tekniska universitet.