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Techno-economic assessment of low-temperature carbon dioxide electrolysis


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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Fig. 1: Chemical production process via low-temperature CO2 electrolysis.
Fig. 2: Laboratory-bench-scale CO2 electrolysis performance.
Fig. 3: Production cost changes for various parameters.
Fig. 4: Roadmap to reducing base case production cost by successive changes to cost-relevant parameters.
Fig. 5: Electrolyser current density required to maintain constant production cost.

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Data availability

The spreadsheet used for cost analyses is available in Supplementary Data 1 (ref. 33). It includes analyses for two different cell configurations—AEM and BPM—with different voltammetric models.

Code availability

The MATLAB codes for voltammetric profiles are given in Supplementary Data 2.


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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.

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Authors and Affiliations



H.S. and K.U.H. contributed equally to this work. H.S., K.U.H. and F.J. performed data analysis and wrote the manuscript. F.J. supervised the whole project.

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Correspondence to Feng Jiao.

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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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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–8, Figs. 1–13 and Tables 1–14.

Supplementary Data 1

Spreadsheet used for computing production costs.

Supplementary Data 2

MATLAB code used for computing electrolyser voltammetric performance.

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Shin, H., Hansen, K.U. & Jiao, F. Techno-economic assessment of low-temperature carbon dioxide electrolysis. Nat Sustain 4, 911–919 (2021).

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