Backed by Germany’s government, three global firms have begun a three-year project that will attempt to make the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into a useful component of various industrial processes, starting with abundant natural gas supplies as a feedstock.

Eventually, the multi-disciplinary project, which kicked off this month, is to develop a pilot plant design and initial concepts for integrating technology into the chemical and steel industries.

Units of BASF Corp., The Linde Group and ThyssenKrupp are seeking to develop an “innovative process technology” initially with natural gas that eventually would use CO2 as a raw material with offsetting climate change impacts. A BASF unit and research partners in Dusseldorf, Germany and TU Dortmund University are helping develop the two-stage process.

BASF’s unit and its partners are coordinating the joint project, while Linde and ThyssenKrupp are to handle the engineering responsibilities. Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project under the Sustainability and Climate Protection program.

The research builds on the use of carbon monoxide and hydrogen as a synthetic gas (syngas), which is a key raw material for the chemical industry and is also suitable for producing other fuels, such as gasoline (see related story). The partners first plan to apply high-temperature technology to process gas into its hydrogen and carbon elements, which compared to other processes produces only small amounts of CO2. The hydrogen from the gas is subsequently reacted with large volumes of CO2 from other industrial processes to form syngas.

“Methane decomposition complements our existing technology portfolio as well as our hydrogen, CO2 and syngas businesses,” said Linde’s Harald Ranke, head of the clean energy technology programs. He said compared to traditional hydrogen-production processes, the new technology would cut CO2 emissions in half and could “unlock” the raw material potential of CO2.

The three partners envision three advantages to their approach: gas is plentiful and has a better mixture of hydrogen and carbon than biomass; gas can be “decomposed” thermally without the need to add oxygen or water; and these facts allow the production of hydrogen and “solid” carbon, the latter of which may be a replacement for hard coal in the coke and steel industries.

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