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Carbon Lifecycle

Capturing carbon from the air, converting captured carbon to fuel and storing carbon in soil and biomass.

Capturing, converting, and storing carbon is a vital component of decarbonization and the global fight against climate change. Argonne carries out R&D in the areas of carbon capture — both direct air capture and from point-source emissions — carbon utilization for fuels and other applications, carbon storage in soil and terrestrial ecosystems, and carbon storing in biomass.

Applying our expertise in materials development, process R&D and strategic analysis, Argonne is both mapping out carbon capture technologies and their value to industry, and pioneering new approaches for direct air and point-source capture. We are working with university and industry partners to develop prototypes of a low-cost system for capturing carbon dioxide waste from manufacturing emissions and cleanly converting it to ethanol. The project builds on Argonne’s recent discovery of a highly selective, energy-efficient thermo-, electro- and photo-catalysts for this reaction. Argonne also leads an international team developing a next-generation electrochemical system for sustainable direct air capture and its utilization and storage as clean solar fuel.

Our researchers are also developing models to map carbon capture sources and sinks for the chemicals, primary metals, petroleum, food and beverage, and cement and lime industries, and are developing a bottom-up, optimization-based energy systems model for carbon-intensive sectors.

As a partner in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center, an Energy Research Frontier Center led by the University of Chicago, Argonne is engaged in computationally guided discovery of new catalytic materials for the conversion of natural gas to olefins and alcohols.

To advance the utilization of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, Argonne is discovering new, selective catalysts for upcycling plastic waste to lubricants and other products with reduced emissions, including through DOE’s Institute for Cooperative Upcycling of Plastics (iCOUP), an Energy Research Frontier Center led by Ames Laboratory. Argonne is developing a catalytic process to convert pre- and post-consumer waste to high-performance lubricants with a potential emissions reduction of roughly 80% compared to production from petroleum. In addition, as a partner in the Bio-Optimized Technologies to Keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE) consortium, Argonne is partnering with Iowa State University, Texas A&M University and Chevron-Phillips to develop a continuous flow process to convert plastic waste to high-valuable products, such as lubricants, fatty acids, and alcohols.

With the support of ARPA-E, Argonne scientists are developing and optimizing a commercially viable, low-temperature catalytic process for upcycling polyolefins into oil products. We circumvent much of the cost other plastic recycling processes would accrue by using a low-temperature process and producing higher value products. This process demonstrates a potential CO2 reduction in the range of 78-83% compared to the petroleum lubricant production process.

Argonne provides technical assistance supporting agricultural communities to decarbonize by quantifying the ecosystem services and value, including sequestered carbon, provided by growing bioenergy feedstock, and by working with communities to find markets for biomass and the ecosystem services co-generated. Argonne performs field research investigating new bioenergy crop cultivars and their environmental performance. We also investigate the fundamental processes underlying the soil carbon cycle and the susceptibility of soil organic carbon to release as the circumpolar Arctic permafrost thaws as a result of climate change. This work is fundamental in guiding efforts to store and maintain carbon in terrestrial ecosystems.