CO2-Based Products of the Future

Apr 06 2018


The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is reimagining the ways we can use CO2emissions in valuable ways. While many of the semifinalist teams in the competition are converting carbon into products we’d recognize like concrete, plastic, foods, and more, there are a handful of teams who have their sights set on less conventional, but potentially revolutionary ways of converting and recycling CO2 emissions on a massive scale.

The promise of high-performance materials like carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles has been the stuff of science fiction, promising super strength, super lightweight, almost mystical properties. Until recently these materials have only been available in very small quantities in research labs, but with the challenge of the Carbon XPRIZE, these teams see an opportunity to use all of the “wasted” carbon in our CO2 emissions as a feedstock to mass produce seriously high-performance materials with the potential to change our future.

Carbon Upcycling Technologies is one of these teams. Based in Calgary, Canada, they are dedicated to proving that CO2 is not waste, but rather a versatile substance that can used to add value to businesses. Their product, a “functionalized nanoparticle,” has shown significant functional performance in concrete, plastics, ceramic and epoxy coatings, 3D-printing filaments, drug delivery, super lubrication, energy storage, asphalt, and solar cell applications. Ongoing research is identifying new applications for these particles all the time!

Carbon Upcycling Technologies is unique in that they chemically react CO2with a solid carbon feedstock, which not only reduces CO2 emissions, but produces cost-effective nanoparticles that can serve as additives across all of these various industries.

Based in Washington, DC, team C2CNT is another revolutionary team—they are building a technology that can bring carbon nanotubes to the masses. The tiny particles in these nanotubes (one billionth of a meter across) have exceptionally high strength for their weight, which could help us make stronger, lighter, and more robust cars, airplanes, and even bridges! They are also an excellent semiconductor, making them a potentially revolutionary material in battery technology and electronics design.

C2CNT believes that solutions based on merely reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we produce—which make up the majority of existing solutions on the market today—don’t go far enough to address the global emissions challenge. That’s why they focused on pure carbon nanotubes...a solution that they say provides the most compact form to capture the CO2 in our atmosphere and mitigate climate change.

Team TerraCOH is reimagining how we can use CO2 to supercharge our electrical grid by using emissions to harness renewable energy—a technology they call “the Earth Battery.” This technology permanently stores CO2 in the earth while harvesting geothermal energy—a novel operation that uses the earth itself as a type of energy storage container.

Video courtesy of TerraCOH

“A lot of ways people approach this is how we can convert CO2 into something else [...] but our approach is, we’re not going to convert it into something else, we’re going to use it to make something else.”

When the energy supply from sources such as wind and solar farms exceeds demand, team TerraCOH’s technology stores the excess energy and heat in the earth using geological sequestration of CO2. But when the demand exceeds supply, that energy can be recovered and quickly dispatched through the existing electric grid. Their technology lowers both the capital and operating costs for electricity production, and exponentially increases its geographic extent.

From plastics, fuels, building materials, and even food, to clean energy and carbon nanomaterials, the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is enabling us to envision a world in which almost everything around us can be made from carbon. And with the announcement of our finalist teams coming April 9th, we hope these solutions will gain the momentum they need to lead us toward the clean energy future we need.