A two-year research project with the aim of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from an industrial source and turning it into methanol has received a $300,000 federal grant.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) made the grant to Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). It will help advance a process called Integrated Carbon Dioxide Capture and Conversion to Methanol (ICCCM).

SoCalGas expects the technology to be an important component of California's efforts to mitigate impacts of climate change and ultimately aid the state’s target of a "net zero" economy by 2045.

SoCalGas and PNNL plan to assess the commercial viability of a prototype demonstrated at an electric generation or anaerobic digestion facility. DOE funding would support work to design, fabricate and demonstrate a modular ICCCM to capture the carbon before it is emitted and transform it into methanol.

By definition, carbon capture and utilization (CCU) projects harness carbon pre-emission, typically using the CO2 to make chemicals that become resins and plastic materials. "CO2 capture to create methanol serves two purposes -- preventing carbon emissions that are produced through conventional syngas-to-methanol technologies, and using the CO2 helps offset some of the costs incurred with carbon capture," said SoCalGas spokesperson Christine Detz.

As part of the project, an evaluation of the compatibility of certain catalysts and solvents will be done, along with designing, building and testing the reactor unit, Detz said.

At the generation or industrial site, the ICCCM will take flue gas, cool it and then run it through a CO2 absorber, in which the carbon dioxide is captured by a proprietary PNNL "CO2 binding organic liquids" solvent. After being pressurized, the solvent is heated and passed to the main reactor, along with hydrogen, for methanol production. A methanol-water mixture is distilled to produce 99.6% pure methanol and the excess hydrogen and solvent are recycled back to the CO2 absorber.

To eventually meet California's challenging climate mitigation goals, cost-effective technologies for capturing and using CO2 will be crucial, according to SoCalGas Senior Director for Business Development Yuri Freedman. "The goal of this project is to determine whether ICCCM technology can be a cost-effective way to reduce emissions," Freedman said.

PNNL specializes in carbon capture and catalysis research, said David Heldebrant, a chief scientist at the National Laboratory, who is co-leading the project. "Our role is to design a continuous catalytic process that can take waste CO2 and repurpose it as a low-carbon fuel or chemical feedstock with a large size market, such as a methanol," he said.