Perspective on the New Carbon Economy

The economic and industrial developments that were fueled by the industrial revolution have made nations more productive than ever before and brought in significant social and lifestyle changes. However, they have also added approximately 2 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere. Even though the presence of CO2 to such an extent in the atmosphere is a pressing environmental challenge, it provides an enormous market opportunity to transform waste carbon dioxide in the air into valuable products and services in a New Carbon Economy. The New Carbon Economy, where carbon pollution is turned into materials and fuels that drive our daily lives, is the need of the hour in progressing towards a sustainable future that creates a strong, healthy and resilient environment for communities around the globe. Organizations such as The Center for Carbon Removal, in partnership with Arizona State University and several other research institutions, is leading an audacious consortium with the goal of developing solutions that could turn a pollutant – CO2 in the atmosphere – into valuable resources that can fuel our economy. But to achieve such an audacious goal, different parties right from academia to industries and corporations have to come together and work along to develop new businesses and reinvent the industries that powered the industrial revolution. The BBC has highlighted several companies who have turned CO2 into a useful resource.  CO2 can be captured and used to produce everyday items such as pillows, plastics, paint, soles of shoes, binding of books, concrete and so on. Realizing this potential, Industries have already begun making use of the available CO2 in the atmosphere. UK-based Econic Technologies has invented a way to make plastics by encouraging CO2 to react with petrochemical raw materials. The resulting plastic contains 50% of its raw materials from CO2. Likewise, CarbonCure Technologies, a Canadian company, is recycling CO2 and putting it into concrete. CO2 helps create calcium carbonate that makes the concrete 20% stronger. Another company, Carbon Engineering, captures CO2 and uses it to make diesel and jet fuel. Meanwhile, Carbon Clean Solutions, based in India, captures CO2 from a coal-fired power plant and turns it into soda ash – an ingredient in fertilizers, synthetic detergents, and dyes. Though the New Carbon Economy is catching up, we still need more technology and processes in place to safely pull CO2 back from the atmosphere and dispose or recycle it permanently. Here at ASU, The Center for Negative Carbon Emissions (CNCE), directed by Dr. Klaus Lackner, has been working towards advancing carbon management technologies such as Direct Air Capture (DAC) that can capture carbon dioxide directly from the air in an outdoor operating environment. CNCE focuses on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere because it treats the root cause of climate change as all carbon emissions end up in the air. Furthermore, it provides an unambiguous metric: the amount of CO2 removed. In addition to demonstrating a moisture swing sorbent cycle for capturing carbon dioxide, CNCE is actively involved in the development of prototype technologies to close the carbon cycle and create net negative emissions. Moreover, it studies the interactions of these new technologies with policy development and of the societal implications of these changes by analyzing and determining the optimal positioning of these technologies to best serve societal needs. For more information, please contact Samson Szeto, Communications Program Coordinator for ASU LightWorks®.