The Carbon Conversion Program invests in research, development, and demonstration of technologies that convert captured carbon oxides, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), into economically valuable products such as chemicals, fuels, building materials, plastics, and bioproducts. These conversion technologies are among a portfolio of approaches required to mitigate the gigatonne-scale of CO2 emissions to be removed from the atmosphere annually. While the impact of conversion technologies to reduce emissions are limited by the market scale and durability of conversion products, these technologies will play a critical role in accelerating the future decarbonization of industries, particularly hard-to-decarbonize sectors. Conversion technologies can target CO2 sources that are too distributed for centralized capture or locations without sufficient storage reserviors. The Program also engages with stakeholders such as investors, technology development partners, and consumers to develop a healthy ecosystem to support for commercial deployment.

“Research, develop, and demonstrate a broad suite of technologies that convert CO2 into environmentally responsible, equitable, and economically valuable products, and enable low-carbon supply chains to meet the goal of a decarbonized economy by 2050”  - Carbon Conversion Program Vision Statement

The Program encourages rigorous evaluation of the technology’s environmental, economic, and social impacts using  Life Cycle and techno-economic analytical tools, with the primary goal to ensure a net reduction in CO2 emissions . Additionally, the program works with technology developers to facilitate and foster collaboration with relevant testing sites - such as the DOE-supported National Carbon Capture Center.

The technical strategy of the Carbon Conversion Program focuses primarily on the development of CO2 conversion technologies along three of the four pathways shown in Figure 1. The pathways include Uptake, Catalytic Conversion, and Mineralization. The Physical Services - or direct use – pathway, which includes using CO2 in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process that is ubitiquous in the oil and gas industry today, is not the focus of this program. 

Carbon Conversion Pathways Image
Figure 1. Pathways for CO2 conversion include biological (algae) uptake, catalytic conversion, and mineralization. The physical services pathway is not the program's focus; CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery.


Uptake in Algal Systems – Algae are extremely efficient photosynthetic organisms. The biomass produced in algal systems can be processed and converted into different bioproducts such as fuels, chemicals, soil supplements, food for fish, animals, and humans, and other specialty and fine products.

Catalytic Conversion – Catalytic Conversion pathways generally involve the reduction of CO2 using a catalyst. These processes include thermochemical, electrochemical, photochemical, plasma-assisted (thermal and non-thermal), and microbially-mediated approaches. Many also require catalysts or integrated processes to lower the energy needed to drive these systems. Waste carbon can be transformed into synthetic fuels, chemicals, plastics, and solid carbon products like carbon fibers and carbon nanotubes.  

Reactive capture and conversion (RCC) is an integrated system that combines CO2 capture from a dilute gas stream and CO2 conversion into value-added products without requiring a purified COintermediate stream. RCC may reduce the cost through process intensification and benefit from regenerating carbon capture materials eliminating purification and transport of CO­2 for conversion.

Mineralization – This pathway involves the carbonation reaction in which CO2 is reacted with an alkaline source to produce inorganic materials, such as cement, aggregates, bicarbonates, and associated inorganic chemicals. Carbonate materials may be an effective long-term storage option for CO2, especially for use in the building industry.

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.