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Pathways to Industrial Scale Fuel from CO2 Electrolysis

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Pathways to Industrial Scale Fuel from CO2 Electrolysis ( pathways-industrial-scale-fuel-from-co2-electrolysis )

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Context & Scale A successful transition of our global energy system will require changes to our society and industry. One of these changes is the production of electricity from renewable energy sources, which can be directly used today and in our increasingly electrified future infrastructure. The generated green electricity is also foreseen to be essential in ‘‘Power-to-X’’ technologies, where ambient molecules such as H2O, CO2, and N2 are converted into dense- energy carriers. Here, we provide an example of the combined technologies needed to make Power-to-X into an industry capable of influencing the global energy system (~TW). Using CO2 electrolyzers as a central technology in the production of green methanol (MeOH), we discuss the integration of direct CO2 air capture with CO2 and H2O electrolyzers and a traditional MeOH synthesis step. The resulting analysis provides tangible scales for CO2 electrolyzers at an early research stage and perspectives on a future industry powered by dilute solar energy resources. Perspective Pathways to Industrial-Scale Fuel Out of Thin Air from CO2 Electrolysis Wilson A. Smith,1,* Thomas Burdyny,1 David A. Vermaas,1,2 and Hans Geerlings1,3 The use of CO2, water, and renewable electricity as direct feedstocks for the synthesis of chemicals and fuels is a seemingly appealing means of transitioning away from a reliance on fossil fuels. Electrochemical CO2 reduction in particular has been championed as a technology aiding in the energy transition. Despite continuous technical improvements, however, the consideration of CO2 electro- lyzers within a chemical process remains largely unaddressed. Given the need to capture CO2 prior to electrochemical conversion, upconvert most CO2 reduc- tion products, and operate on renewable electricity, it is essential that we start thinking about CO2 electrolyzers as part of a larger system, rather than as an independent technology. In other words, what is the endgame for CO2 electro- lyzers? To initiate these discussions within the CO2 reduction community, we considered the use of CO2 electrolyzers as one technology in the ‘‘air-to-barrel’’ production of 10,000 tons of methanol/day. Looking at the role of the CO2 electrolyzers in the process, we highlight the distribution of energy re- sources required, the potential for process integration, and the importance of increasing current densities even further. A key conclusion finds that a six order-of-magnitude gap exists between current catalyst areas and industry- sized applications, emphasizing the need to begin research on scaling CO2 cat- alysts and electrolyzers immediately if they are to contribute to the upcoming energy transition. Electricity generation from solar irradiation and wind offers a globally abundant en- ergy source, which can be used in combination with nuclear energy, carbon capture, and carbon sequestration to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and transition away from fossil fuels as a primary energy source.1 As the fraction of renewables in the energy mix increases, large-scale energy storage technologies become increas- ingly important and will need to be deployed to cope with peak demand and intermittency on both daily and seasonal time scales.2,3 The most efficient route, however, is always to use renewable electricity directly. Nevertheless, in case excess electricity cannot be used immediately, an increasingly utilized route is to store electrical power in batteries because of the >90% round-trip energy efficiency of charging and discharging.4,5 Large-scale battery systems can also be deployed any- where and are well suited to balance diurnal variations of renewable electricity gen- eration. However, conventional battery technology at the scale of >100 MWh6 only has the capacity to provide continuous power for a few hours before depletion. One means of storing abundant renewable energy on seasonal time scales is to use dense-energy carriers.7,8 This route can store energy directly or indirectly in the form of chemical bonds, such as methane, ethanol, ethylene, ammonia, and meth- anol (MeOH),9–12 and has resulted in a renewed focus on technologies such as elec- trochemical CO2 reduction to provide these chemicals synthetically. In addition, certain applications such as air traffic and heavy-duty transport directly rely on hydrocarbon molecules as fuels and may be hard pressed to find alternatives with 1822 Joule 3, 1822–1834, August 21, 2019 a 2019 Elsevier Inc.

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