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The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is in the early stages of establishing research strategies and technology pathways for converting gaseous feedstocks such as biogas and, primarily, carbon dioxide into biofuels or bioproducts. This effort began in 2017, when BETO hosted the Engineered Carbon Reduction Listening Day and subsequently published a report which informed BETO’s approach to using carbon dioxide (CO2) as a carbon feedstock.

Diagram showing CO2 to utilization to renewable low-carbon fuels and high-value products.
Carbon dioxide can be utilized to develop renewable low-carbon fuels and high-value products.
Power plant with smokestacks.
BETO has begun to develop research strategies and technology pathways to convert CO2 into biofuels or bioproducts. The CO2 can be captured from point-source emissions or the atmosphere.

Most of BETO's CO2 utilization portfolio focuses on leveraging low-cost electricity of low carbon intensity. The intersection of cheap, renewable electricity and available CO2—whether it be from point-source emissions from buildings such as manufacturing plants or captured directly from the atmosphere—makes the prospect of developing sustainable fuels from air a real possibility.

Technology Pathways for CO2 Utilization

BETO's main strategy for investigating CO2 utilization occurs first through engineered carbon reduction, where electricity is used to convert CO2 to reduced carbon intermediates, such as carbon monoxide, formic acid, or methanol.

This step can occur through a number of approaches, such as:

  • Electrocatalysis
  • Thermocatalysis
  • Bioelectrocatalysis.

These intermediates can then be upgraded to fuels and products through a variety of technologies such as gas fermentation and catalytic upgrading. This methodology allows for new advances in CO2 conversion to be quickly coupled to more established conversion technologies.

Diagram showing cycle of engineered carbon reduction.
Engineered carbon reduction. Top: Pathways used to convert biomass feedstocks produced via photosynthesis. Bottom: CO2 utilization strategies use renewable energy to power CO2 reduction into intermediates that are converted to fuels and chemicals.