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A Valuable Enemy


Dr Sandra Hernandes Aldave and Dr Enrico Andreoli recently published an article in a Swansea University publication "A Call for Engineers".


CO2 A Valuable Enemy

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous changes on an industrial level. The world has stopped traveling, factories are closed or on reduced throughputs and the hospitality sector has collapsed.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change, showed that from early April 2020, the daily global CO2 emissions have decreased by 17% compared to last year. Moreover, the study states that the annual global emissions of CO2 will depend on the duration of the confinement; but a reduction of 4% is expected if the lockdown ends this summer, or a fall up to 7% if it continues until the end of the year.

Although these numbers seem very positive news, they also reveal darker facts.

First, these changes are temporary, and the previous estimations are dependent of governmental actions and economic incentives post-crisis. Taking into consideration previous examples, the CO2 reductions achieved during recessions are easily offset by economic rebounds. In 2010, after the Great Recession, the CO2 emissions rebounded by 5%.

On the other hand, these numbers show us how hard it is to realise the desperately needed reduction of CO2 emissions. Even in the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic, the global CO2 reduction for 2020 will not reach the goals stablished by the United Nations in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. An agreement where the European Union has committed to achieve an economy-wide domestic target of at least 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030 and at least 80% reduction by 2050. By the same year, the UK has set an even more ambitious target of zero emissions. Targets that will help to keep global warming below 2°C but require an annual emission drop of 7.6%. In order to achieve such goals, CO2 reductions of similar magnitude of those recorded during the lockdown will be necessary for several years; almost unthinkable in today’s society. But not all hope is lost!

Those reduction targets can be achieved through developing new and efficient technologies that can mitigate CO2 emissions. This group of technologies is known as Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU); able not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also to provide supplementary benefits.

CCU technologies capture anthropogenic CO2, industrially emitted or airborne, then converted into added-value products, such as fuels like methane, propane or ethylene and chemicals as ethanol or formate. This conversion can be done using renewable energy sources, achieving a sustainable circular process. This approach has the huge advantage to create value from CO2 emissions.

Our research is to make this amazing idea, a fascinating reality. At the Energy Safety Research Institute of Swansea University, we are designing and building a CCU system to help reduce carbon emissions of Welsh industries within our flagship research operation RICE (Reducing Industrial Carbon Emission). The project looks at the capture and the conversion of CO2. Our capture system is a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) unit tailored to the CO2 separation needs of large scale industry including steelmaking, cement and glass production. The PSA unit will be available to the industry to separate CO2 from multiple mixtures containing nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and possible contaminants. Afterwards, the CO2 will be introduced into a customised electrolyser. Here, the CO2 is converted electrochemically into valuable products. Although the concept is relatively easy to understand, the reality is more challenging, and it requires the consideration of thousands of factors; from multiple computational simulations to several lab scale testing. Challenges that do not intimidate our team, we believe in our vision and effort to mitigate global warming.


"A Call for Engineers" publication highlights research being undertaken by RICE, ESRI and the College of Engineering and can be read in full here

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