Unique technology for CO2 capture and conversion to green chemicals
While the world is rife with electrolysis to produce hydrogen by splitting water, TNO is also betting on this technology to convert CO2. CO2 electrolysis is a promising electrochemical technique to convert this greenhouse gas into high-quality sustainable chemicals.
(Photo: TNO)
Pilot plant for sustainable industry in 2030
We have built a pilot plant where researchers and industry can work together to reduce CO2 taking electrolysis to the next level with us. TNO welcomes parties from large industry, SMEs and research institutes to experiment and test with us in this open innovation environment to take the industry to become more sustainable faster.
Lower carbon footprint 
The route TNO is currently taking is that of further converting CO2 via electrolysis into formic acid, which can be converted back into useful products such as proteins or chemical building blocks for plastics by fermentation, for example. The idea is CO2 captured from industry and converted on site. This allows companies to capture CO2 valorise waste streams and thus also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Almost all products we currently use contain carbon. With CO2 electrolysis, you extract that carbon from CO2 waste streams rather than from petroleum or natural gas. Where hydrogen is important for the energy transition, this development can give a big boost to the materials transition.
Linking electrolysis to fermentation 
That CO2 can be captured in industry or from the air and converted into useful products has long been known. TNO has traditionally also been active in this field. Although CO2 electrolysis to formic acid can run on green electricity, it has so far proved difficult to make this a positive business case. When converting CO2 making plastics or fuels still requires a relatively large amount of energy. But making formic acid efficiently first and coupling that with fermentation processes to produce high-value chemicals dramatically reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released during production and is also efficient in its simplicity.
Open innovation environment 
"We want to start demonstrating with industry that the technology can be made operationally deployable and profitable for them," says TNO researcher Elena Perez Gallent. "We welcome parties from large industry, SMEs and research institutes to use our facility and experiment and test with us in this open innovation environment. Think reactor builders, component and material suppliers, end users. Many companies are interested in the technology, but do not yet see a revenue model. We need to work together to make it market-ready."
Perfecting technology
Her colleague Matti van Schooneveld: "We are talking about being able to produce materials and products for the food and plastics industries, for example, CO2-free and profitably. If we want all products to be fossil-free by 2050, recycling is useful but not sufficient. You need new raw materials, and you can make them from CO2 via electrolysis. The technology is there, we just need to perfect it. We will start by making the conversion to formic acid mature, but gradually we will also make the technology suitable for other reactions and conversions. For a number of processes, the amount of raw materials required can be significantly reduced. And because we capture and convert the CO2 at plants, there is no need to import the carbon needed for materials. Profit on many fronts." Further development and testing are being led by VoltaChem, the Shared Innovation Programme of TNO, government and industry.
Realising innovations together
The largest independent plant for CO2 electrolysis in Europe test facility, called ZEUS, is at the TNO facilities in Rijswijk and has been made possible by contributions from Interreg2Seas, Province of South Holland, Smartport and the Ministry of Economy and Climate. Although it will initially focus on conversion to formic acid, other reactions are also possible such as to carbon monoxide (CO) and other products. What is unique is that many different conversion routes can be done on one plant. The aim is to have it available within a few years as a mobile installation to be used at companies that currently produce CO2 emit.