J-P Mikkola_B194Jyri-Pekka Mikkola of Bio4Energy said that excess carbon dioxide should be turned into chemicals and fuels. Photo by Anna Strom©.A senior scientist on Bio4Energy’s Catalysis and Separation Platform has said that large-scale underground storage of carbon dioxide may have unintended consequences and should be avoided, suggesting instead that methods should be invented to capture and turn C02 into fuels and chemicals.

“I think it is a very dangerous option, storing large amounts (of C02 underground)”, Jyri-Pekka Mikkola told a seminar celebrating research by the Umeå University (UmU) Chemical Biological Centre. A professor of technical chemistry at UmU, in northern Sweden, Mikkola was referring to the ongoing debate on whether carbon capture and storage should be implemented on a large scale as one leg of a future international strategy to counter global warming by cutting greenhouse gases.

“We should make chemicals and fuels out of (the C02)”, he said, adding that applications could be organic carbonates and biodegradable plastics.

Bayer, the German chemicals’ giant, had already started producing plastics from C02 at a pilot plant in Germany, he added. However, to roll out such technology on a large scale further research, and political will, were needed. Mikkola suggested that the presence or absence of the latter would “depend on the price of oil”, as a high oil prices might prompt politicians to do more to promote alternatives to petrochemicals and fossil fuels.

Large-scale production of plastics from C02 could become a reality within five years, he said, depending on the speed of technology development.

“If we are lucky there could be groundbreaking progress tomorrow”, said Mikkola. However, substantial funding for research and development was needed, along the lines of that provided to B4E to by the Swedish government, and B4E industrial partners, to develop sustainable biorefinery. Support for B4E hovers around SEK50 million (€5.5 million) a year for five years.

“There should be an army of researchers testing every aspect of this line of technology”, he said. At present, only “chemistry giants such as Bayer” were in a position to do so.

Mikkola is a leading figure in catalytic research that targets forest-sourced raw materials and waste streams from boreal forests. At UmU he heads a team of assistant professors, PhD and doctoral students contributing work to B4E Catalysis and Separation Platform. Moreover he is affiliated with the Åbo Akademi university in Finland. A handful of scientists from Luleå University of Technology, led by Jonas Hedlund, conduct research on membrane separation, notably for the removal or reuse of CO2, on behalf of B4E.

We asked professor Mikkola if he felt it was realistic—given the enormous amounts of man-made C02 released into the atmosphere each year—to hope that we could turn all or much of this potentially heat-trapping gas into products?

“Absolutely. It can be separated at (point sources such as) power plants. We will want to target (source emissions of C02) where concentrations are high”, he said. The metallurgical industry, steelworks or power production based on biomass burning could be candidates.

”We need (to make) many types of products based on C02. If we can turn it into liquids that are combustible that will produce an energy resource that is easy to store. This is a very efficient way to store energy (for) mobile (applications). Liquids made from hydrocarbons generally are blessed with… high energy content”.

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