Low-temperature CO2 electrolysis represents a potential enabling process in the production of renewable chemicals and fuels, notably carbon monoxide, formic acid, ethylene and ethanol. Because this technology has progressed rapidly in recent years, a systematic techno-economic assessment has become necessary to evaluate its feasibility as a CO2 utilization approach. Here this work provides a comprehensive techno-economic assessment of four major products and prioritizes the technological development with systematic guidelines to facilitate the market deployment of low-temperature CO2 electrolysis. First, we survey state-of-the-art electrolyser performance and parameterize figures of merit. The analysis shows that production costs of carbon monoxide and formic acid (C1 products) are approaching US$0.44 and 0.59 kg–1, respectively, competitive with conventional processes. In comparison, the production of ethylene and ethanol (C2 products) is not immediately feasible due to their substantially higher costs of US$2.50 and 2.06 kg–1, respectively. We then provide a detailed roadmap to making C2 product production economically viable: an improvement in energetic efficiency to ~50% and a reduction in electricity price to US$0.01 kWh–1. We also propose industrially relevant benchmarks: 5-year stability of electrolyser components and the single-pass conversion of 30 and 15% for C1 and C2 products, respectively. Finally we discuss the economic aspects of two potential strategies to address electrolyte neutralization utilizing either an anion exchange membrane or bipolar membrane.
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This material is based upon work supported by the US Department of Energy under award number DE-FE0031910. We thank the National Science Foundation for financially supporting H.S. (award no. CBET-1803200). We also acknowledge helpful discussions on developing the methodology of the analysis by M. Jouny, and constructive suggestions by S. Overa and B. H. Ko.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Ung Lee and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Shin, H., Hansen, K.U. & Jiao, F. Techno-economic assessment of low-temperature carbon dioxide electrolysis. Nat Sustain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00739-x
Nature Sustainability (2021)