Utilizing CO2 as a feedstock. The direct conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable chemicals, fuels, and materials represents an enormous opportunity to achieve a circular carbon economy and supports the transition to a net-zero future (Columbia CGEP report). Elaborating on this opportunity, Tao and coworkers reviewed the outlook for near-term economic viability of CO2 utilization and opportunities for transformational R&D to reduce cost. This study, among others, concluded that conversion processes involving CO2, a highly stable molecule (e.g., non-reactive), remain costly (Figure 1) especially for energy-intensive hydrocarbon products.

CO2-to-carboxylic acids via photocatalysis. New Iridium has developed an outside-the-box solution that enables CO2 utilization at affordable costs. Unlike strategies and target products outlined in aforementioned studies, our light-driven solution can achieve lower cost or on par with incumbent processes for the following reasons.

  • Minimizing energy cost:  A big chunk of cost for CO2 conversion comes from energy input, which is correlated to the change in oxidation state. Our carboxylic acid products require only a small change in oxidation state thus minimizing energy cost. This compares to CO2 conversion into hydrocarbons requiring large change in oxidation state resulting in high energy costs and unfavorable economics.
  • Maximizing product value: Economic viability also depends on product selling price. Unlike other technical innovations that focus on low priced products such as carbon monoxide (CO) and light alkanes (<$500/t), our target products include high-value C3 and C4 carboxylic acids with prices of $1500/t or more.
  • Photocatalysis technology: Nature has evolved to use light (photosynthesis) to recycle CO2. Our photocatalysis technology mimics nature’s approach using light energy to upcycle CO2 into valuable products. Our light-driven carboxylation chemistry is a unique solution to produce carboxylic acids. To date this chemical reactivity has not been replicated using thermal- or electro-catalysis or bio-based methods.

Figure 1: Estimated cost of production (ECOP) and product selling price for a) electrochemical and b) thermochemical CO2 recycling pathways adapted from a report by Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy.

1st use case: C4 carboxylic acids/esters. Our first products are four-carbon isobutyric and methacrylic acids/ esters produced from CO2 and propane co-feedstocks (Figure 2). Bio-based propane (e.g., from waste vegetable oils) can be used as a greener option. Our 2-step process first combines CO2 and propane to produce isobutyric acid, itself a marketable product. In the second step, isobutyric acid is converted into methacrylic acid/ester such as methyl methacrylate (MMA) via dehydrogenation. MMA is an industrial chemical with a $20B global market and is used in a plethora of consumer products such as electronic display screens (smart phones and laptops), paints, plexiglass, etc. Our competitive advantage is a differentiated CO2-negative product that consumes ~50% of CO2 by weight at lower cost than the incumbent product. Feedstock cost analysis indicates potential for 30% cost saving from lower cost feedstocks, reducing process steps (from 5 to 2), and eliminating the use of toxic hydrogen cyanide. Process development is currently underway to reach industrial standards for process metrics.

Figure 2: Utilizing CO2 to produce high-value C4 carboxylic acids/esters.