Carbon Capture and Utilization Carbon Capture and Utilization

What is CCU?

Carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) stands for, in addition to carbon capture storage, the utilisation of CO2. The CO2, as source of carbon, has the potential to be used in the manufacture of fuels, carbonates, polymers and chemicals. Being on development-to-demonstration phases, CCU represents a new economy for CO2, as used as raw material.

CO2 utilisation may delay carbon emissions to the atmosphere while reducing the consumption of the original feedstock and avoiding the emission of other substances associated to them. Enhanced oil and gas recovery (EOR, EGR), as well as CO2 mineralization, result in permanent storage, while in the other utilisation cases, CO2 is emitted later in the product chain, i.e. when the CO2-product based is consumed.

Due to its inherent potential, CCU is considered a complementary alternative to geological CO2 storage: the predicted short-term market potential by [Aresta et al. 2013] is around 200 MtCO2/y (300 in the best case), compared to about 14,000 MtCO2/y emitted from large point sources [Boot-Handford et al. 2014]. The market for CO2 utilisation is relatively small, and future markets for CO2 will have to map and prioritize points of CO2 emission with utilisation opportunities, advocating for tailor-made and local solutions [Global CCS Institute & Parsons Brinckerhoff 2011].

Further information on carbon capture and utilisation can be found at the Strategic Energy Technologies Information System (SETIS):


[Aresta et al. 2013] Aresta M, Dibenedetto A, and Angelini A: The changing paradigm in CO2 utilization. Journal of CO2 Utilization 3-4 (65–73). DOI:10.1016/j.jcou.2013.08.001

[Boot-Handford et al. 2014] Boot-Handford ME, Abanades JC, Anthony EJ, Blunt MJ, Brandani S, Mac Dowell N, Fernández JR, Ferrari M-C, Gross R, Hallett JP, Haszeldine RS, Heptonstall P, Lyngfelt a., Makuch Z, Mangano E, Porter RTJ, Pourkashanian M, Rochelle GT, Shah N, Yao JG, and Fennell PS: Carbon capture and storage update. Energy & Environmental Science 7 (130). DOI:10.1039/c3ee42350f

[Global CCS Institute & Parsons Brinckerhoff 2011] Global CCS Institute & Parsons Brinckerhoff: Accelerating the Uptake of Ccs : Industrial Use of Captured Carbon Dioxide


Technology facts

Nowadays, uses of CO2 are in beverage carbonation, food industry, medical applications, urea synthesis, rubber/plastics or to mix gases/aerosols, among others [IHS CHEMICAL 2015].

Capture, transport, CO2 transformation and CO2 product consumption represents the value chain of the CCU technology.

"Zero emission power plants" may capture at least 85% of the CO2 formed during the power generation process. Heavy industry emissions may have to use CO2 capture techniques to further decrease their carbon emissions. This captured CO2 will be either transported to suitable underground locations where it will be stored, or transported to be further used in industrial processes as a raw material or working fluid (so-called carbon capture and utilisation – CCU).

CCU fuels remains around factor 2 or 3 times more expensive than fossil fuel competitors. [Bio-based News 2015].

Iceland has the first semi-commercial plant, which is running with geothermal energy to produce methanol from CO2  [Bio-based News 2015].




[Bio-based News 2015] Bio-based News: Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals and Polymers from Sun and CO2. Big visions - but also big potential. URL:


What are the barriers and needs of CCU?

Based on the variety and solutions that CCU concept may involve, barriers and needs are different depending on each synthesised product. However, common challenges and needs are applicable to all CCU applications (Table 1).

Table 1 Challenges & needs faced by CCU [ADEME 2014], [Pérez-Fortes et al. 2015]

Nature of barrier




Re-used CO2 is not avoided CO2.

The entire life cycle including raw materials, construction, decommission, etc., should require a higher amount of CO2 than the amount that is actually produced. Thus, all direct and indirect emissions of the whole process should be taken into account.

The role of renewable in the synthesis process could make the difference, leading to a net zero (or negative) emission process.

By using very low carbon electricity (wind or bioenergy) it is possible to reach a 99% of CO2 avoided.


Limited impact on the climate

The quantities of avoided CO2 annually by a plant remain limited to several million tons of CO2.

Carbon Capture Storage has to be complementary to CCU processes in order to achieve a significant decarbonisation through carbon capture.


Hard to reach economic competitiveness

The cost of the synthesised product with CO2 is highly dependent on the cost or value given to the CO2 unit. For certain technologies, such as the production of sodium carbonate or methanol, it requires prices over several hundreds of euros per tonne of CO2 to be competitiveness meanwhile others, maybe competitive without fixing a price.

The improvement of the techno-economic performance is needed to make CCU competitive. An effective implementation of mechanisms to establish either a price of CO2, pr a competitive price for each CCU product, may be required. It should be taken into account that in most cases the CO2 is not removed permanently, and the net contribution is the CO2 not emitted because of the use of a CCU process instead of its equivalent conventional one.



[ADEME 2014] ADEME: Chemical conversion of CO2 overview quantification of energy and environmental benefits

[Pérez-Fortes et al. 2015] Pérez-Fortes M, Schöneberger J, Boulamanti A, Harrison G, and Tzimas E: Methanol and Formic Acid Syntheses Using Captured CO2 As Raw Material: Techno-Economic and Environmental Assessments


What are industry and the EU doing about CCU?

According to [Bio-based News 2015], CCU is gaining momentum, and its application on an industrial scale is expected in the immediate future.

Different actors are involved in the development and deployment of CCU technologies. They all act from different perspectives but at the same time they are all needed to increase knowledge and technology penetration taking into consideration different level of maturity per CCU category [Bio-based News 2015].

CCU applications are huge in terms of processes and uses. Figure 1 depicts an outline of different products that could be obtained from captured CO2, associated to their corresponding industries.

Figure 1 Classification of CO2 utilisation options (Provided by the US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory)

From the final user perspective, in order to amend previous directives on quality of petrol and diesel fuels as well as the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, member states (MS) have to require suppliers of fuel or energy a reduction of at least 6 % of their life cycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy of fuels used in the Union, by 2020. To support this goal, CCU for transport purposes has been included as another mechanism if the energy source is renewable [EU 2015].

The promotion of the CCU technology relies on the priorities of the European Commission that includes the Circular Economy as a major challenge [EU 2014]. To this end, under the EU Research and Innovation Programme (Horizon 2020), the Commission will demonstrate the opportunities for moving towards a circular economy at European level with large-scale innovation projects. More precisely, in the work programme for 2016-2017 under the societal challenge 3 "Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy" a specific topic has been defined called "Utilisation of captured CO2 as feedstock for the process industry" excluding enhanced oil recovery purposes. Under the description of this topic, it is stressed the need for covering a Life-Cycle-Assessment approach study to ensure the whole utilisation process reduces environmental impact in compare with current scenarios. EUR 10 million has been allocated to this topic, whose goal is to push forward technology with TRL 5-6 to TRL 6-7 [European Commission 2015].


[Bio-based News 2015] Bio-based News: Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals and Polymers from Sun and CO2. Big visions - but also big potential. URL:

[EU 2015] EU: DIRECTIVE (EU) 2015/1513 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 9 September 2015 amending Directive 98/70/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewabl 19 (3–5)

[EU 2014] EU: COM (2014) 398. Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe 1. DOI:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

[European Commission 2015] European Commission: Draft Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2014-2015 in the area of “Secure , Clean and Efficient Energy"


What is the current and future potential place of CCU in the energy system?

CCU represents an innovative set of processes that may substantially contribute to the rejuvenation of the European industry and strength the European circular economy. Despite these great opportunities, projects should be assessed under a life cycle methodology approach. In this sense, in order to avoid higher environmental transformation carbon impact than the benefits obtained from the carbon produced, renewable plays an essential role.

Germany, as one of the leaders in the field, provides a good example on the combination of CCU with renewable energies [GFMER 2014]. CO2RRECT represents a good example. This initiative brings together Bayer, RWE, Siemens and ten academic partners whose aim is to use green electricity to convert the CO2 into useful chemical building blocks.

Current CCU technologies/processes (Figure 1) are at different stages of maturity. Some of the "incremental" technologies could be readily established in existing mature markets e.g. use of CO2 to boost urea production, whereas others are at theoretical and research phases, or are at the pilot/demonstration phase, and need further development to reach commercial status. Certain technologies require a niche set of circumstances to be applied on a large and replicable scale  [Zakkour 2013]. To provide an idea on the current progress of CCU technologies and future development, time readiness level is presented for different technologies in Table 2. As for deployment, CCU technologies face a range of obstacles to commercialisation: successful demonstration of the technology/application itself (i.e. overcoming R&D challenges) and also external factors (e.g. competition from alternative services and goods, public acceptance).

Table 2. TRL status of a set of CCU technologies and CO2 applications [Element Energy Ltd et al. 2014]

CCU category


Technology development and performance (TRL)

CO2 to fuels

Renewable methanol and methane production


Formic acid production


Algae cultivation




Counter rotating ring receiver reactor recuperator


Photocatalytic reduction of CO2 (metallic)


Photocatalytic reduction of CO2 (non-metallic)


Nanomaterial catalysts


Enhanced commodity production

Enhanced Geothermal System with CO2


Supercritical CO2 power cycles


Urea yield boosting


Methanol yield boosting (conventional)


CO2 mineralisation

Mineral carbonation


Sodium bicarbonate


CO2 concrete curing


Bauxite residue carbonation


CO2 as chemicals feedstock

Polymer processing (polycarbonates)


Polymer processing (polyurethanes)


Other existing commercial applications

Food and beverage applications




Other Industrial and technical uses




[GFMER 2014] GFMER: Technologies for Sustainability and Climate Protection - Chemical Processes and Use of CO2. Available at:

[Zakkour 2013] Zakkour P: Implications of the Reuse of Captured CO2 for European Climate Action Policies (11)

[Element Energy Ltd et al. 2014] Element Energy Ltd, Carbon Counts Ltd, PSE Ltd, Imperial College, and University of Sheffield: Demonstrating CO2 capture in the UK cement , chemicals , iron and steel and oil refining sectors by 2025 : A Techno-economic Study


Who is/should be involved in CCU?

Taking into account the diversity of CCU technologies and their different grades of maturity and applications, a wide range of stakeholders are involved in the research and development of CCU technologies, including:

  • Academia/research. They play a significant role especially for those technologies in early stages of development. So, they work mainly in conceptual design and laboratory scale.
  • Start-ups/ spin-offs/ venture capital. This group is one step forward academia/research. They are mainly involved in the stages of demonstration and economic assessment before bringing solutions into the market
  • Industry. Responsible for large scale demonstration projects. Industrial companies are also involved in more fundamental R&D in association with academic and research institutes.
  • Industry & research groups. This binomial is important for unifying research efforts and lobbying for R&D funding and other forms of policy support such as effective regulatory, fiscal and incentives design.
  • Policy-makers. Responsible for setting appropriate conditions to facilitate the deployment of technologies that can help to achieve policy aims. In some countries, research in CO2 utilisation technologies is stimulated by national subsidy programmes. There are good examples of how policy-makers are supporting CCU. Thus, the US Department of Energy has launched the DOE’s Carbon Capture Program. In Europe, the EC is promoting the technology through R&D Framework Programmes as the aforementioned Horizon 2020. At the European national level, it is remarkable an specific funding programme set by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to promote CCU for chemical applications.

In Table 3, several EU actors involved in with CCU are listed.

Table 3. Actors involved with CCU [Zakkour 2013]



Start ups


CO2 to fuels

Max Planck Institute,  Bielefeld University, Fraunhofer Umsicht Institute (DE)

Swiss Federal  Institute of  Technology (CH)

Wageningen University (NL)

Uppsala University (SE) VITO (BE)

Granit Green (CH)

Blue Petroleum (ES)

Microphyt (FR)

Subitec (DE)



Bayer, RWE, Siemens (DE)

Abengoa, ABNT (ES)

Holcim (CH)

Carbon Recycling International , Olis, Century Aluminium (IS)

Enhanced commodity production




Enhanced hydrocarbon recovery


2CO (UK)

GdF (FR)

Vattenfall (SV)

CO2 mineralisation

Sheffield University, Newcastle University (UK)

Aachen University (DE)

Abo Akademi (FI)


Caterpillar (UK)

Chemicals production

Aachen University (DE)

Newcastle University, Sheffield University (UK)

University of Twente, TNO (NL)


Bayer, RWE, BASF, Siemens, Evonik  (DE)

Shell (UK/NL)


Feyecon (NL)


[Zakkour 2013] Zakkour P: Implications of the Reuse of Captured CO2 for European Climate Action Policies (11)


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