Holding its final conference in Brussels in June 2016, the EU-funded SCOT project has showcased its innovative work over the past 3 years on building Europe’s capacity for the development of innovative CO2 utilisation and recycling technologies.
With growing emphasis on the need to reduce carbon emissions and create a truly circular economy, carbon dioxide (CO2) utilisation offers Europe an opportunity to meet both of these overarching ambitions. CO2 utilisation is a broad term that covers a variety of innovative industrial processes, which use CO2 from point source emitters (and in the future from direct air capture) as a feedstock to transform CO2 into value added products. In essence, CO2 is treated as a resource, rather than as waste or an emission.
SCOT’s (Smart CO2 Transformation) main objective has been to define a Strategic European Research and Innovation Agenda for Europe in the field of CO2 utilisation. It has done this by considering research and innovation needs on both chemical and biological transformation, covering three primary areas: chemical building blocks, pathways to the two million or so different molecules produced by the chemicals industry); synthetic fuels (aviation, for example); and mineralisation (making hard materials which could be used for building or as a basis for fertiliser pellets). It has also worked towards the development of a Joint Action Plan (JAP) for Europe that includes structural policy measures to favour the transition to low-carbon energy industry and the paradigm of ‘CO2-as-a-resource.’
The project consortium argues that CO2 utilisation will create new opportunities for economic growth, promote greater innovation and boost Europe’s competitiveness, as well support Europe’s decarbonisation and resource efficiency agendas. The project’s overall vision is that by 2030, CO2 utilisation technologies will allow for the manufacturing of a wide variety of products and industrial solutions. Thus, there is indeed a potentially huge market for products derived from reused CO2, but it was acknowledged during the event that it will probably always be cheaper to make a certain molecule from fossil fuels rather than synthetically.
A large part of the conference was dedicated to discussing how to create an adequate political environment for C02 utilisation efforts. One of the regions that has strongly supported this and other green initiatives is Wallonia, one of the constituent regions of Belgium. As such, one of the key speakers at the conference was Jean-Claude Marcourt, a Vice-President of the Walloon Government. He stated that he believed the work carried out by the SCOT project would help with job creation, building businesses and managing energy supply, whilst also helping to achieve environmental objectives. He also pointed out that the coordinated and collaborative efforts undertaken in SCOT have highlighted the benefits of regional cooperation within Europe and that Wallonia will be fully engaged in developing the green economy of the 21st Century that would include CO2 utilisation technologies as a crucial component.
Rudolf W. Strohmeier, the Deputy Director General for Research Programmes at the European Commission’s DG for Research and Innovation then discussed the political and regulatory challenges that must be overcome in order to viably integrate CO2 utilisation technology into European industry. He admitted that carbon capture technology still remains highly costly and that this hampers its commercialisation possibilities in Europe, resulting in no genuinely effective business model for such technology. He did note though that using green energy to transform CO2 into polymers could facilitate the development of new business models and that using CO2 as a feedstock for chemical products would be a major step in the creation of a real circular economy.
Moreover, Mr. Strohmeier also highlighted the importance of a supportive regulatory framework that would allow C02 utilisation efforts to come to fruition and make a real impact on both EU industrial and environmental ambitions. He argued that in order to create such a framework, industry must present the European Commission with concrete examples of business cases that are hampered by currently existing regulatory measures. This would empower the European Commission to make the political case for enabling CO2 utilisation technologies.
The research conducted by the SCOT project will substantially help in putting forward the argument for the implementation of solutions, technical and political,allowing for the development of CO2 utilisation technologies. The project has already been successful in developing a network of supportive institutions, including university clusters, research centres, industrial partners and regions in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as in Belgium.
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