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Carbon utilization is a broad term used to describe the many different ways that captured carbon oxides - principally carbon dioxide (CO2), and in some cases carbon monoxide (CO) – can be used or “recycled” to produce economically valuable products or services. The Office of Fossil Energy’s Carbon Utilization program is focused on early-stage R&D and supporting enabling technologies to develop novel ways to transform waste carbon streams into value-added products.

Carbon Utilization Diagram

The Carbon Utilization Program has highlighted four main pathways for carbon utilization illustrated above. The services or direct use pathway includes enhanced oil recovery (EOR) which is one of the most widely practiced forms of carbon utilization today. However, EOR is a R&D focus of the Fossil Energy’s Carbon Storage Program. Instead, the Carbon Utilization Program’s R&D is focused on the development of approaches along the following conversion pathways:

Carbon Uptake – Algae are extremely efficient photosynthetic organisms – sometimes referred to as CO2 eating machines. The biomass produced in algal systems can be processed and converted to fuels, chemicals, food for fish, animals and humans, soil supplements, and other specialty and fine products.

Conversion Into Value-Added Products – Conversion pathways can include thermochemical, electrochemical, photochemical, and microbially-mediated approaches. Many also require catalysts or integrated processes to lower the energy needed to drive these systems. Via this pathway, wasted carbon can transformed into synthetic fuels, chemicals, plastics, and solid carbon products like carbon fibers.  

Mineralization – Carbon dioxide mineralizes with alkaline reactants to produce inorganic materials, such as cements, aggregates, bicarbonates and associated inorganic chemicals. Carbonate materials may be an effective long-term storage option for CO2 especially for use in the built environment.

The R&D portfolio spans private-public partnerships, university research grants, collaborative work with national laboratories, and research conducted through the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL) Research and Innovation Center. NETL executes and implements this R&D portfolio and additional information can be found on the NETL website.

The program also supports development of enabling technologies - such as Life Cycle Analyses - and facilitates access to testing facilities - such as the National Carbon Capture Center.