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Carbon Conversion Program

Program Overview:

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Carbon Conversion Program focuses on research, development and demonstration of a broad suite of technologies that convert CO2 into environmentally responsible, equitable and economically valuable products, thus enabling low-carbon supply chains to meet the goal of a decarbonized economy by 2050. These products can provide revenue to the emitter that can offset the cost of capturing, treating, and transporting CO2 — and to the user of the CO2 — while also achieving a net reduction of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

The Carbon Conversion Program seeks to identify and develop new and improved materials, equipment, and processes that produce value-added goods using CO2 or CO as a feedstock. Pathways to generate products are diverse and can include carbon uptake to grow algae, catalytic conversion, and mineralization. Products can include fuels, chemicals, agricultural products, animal feed, building materials, and other products. Carbon Conversion is generally applicable to any flue gas stream generated by the combustion of carbon-based fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and biomass, as well as carbon capture streams and several other carbon-rich waste gas streams that are currently vented to the atmosphere. The development of technologies that lead to revenue-generating products can help support broader carbon emissions reduction strategies — such as CO2 capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen production — and lead to more sustainable power generation and industrial and agricultural practices.

Carbon Conversion Products & Pathways:

The Carbon Conversion Program is focused on carbon uptake using algae, catalytic conversion into fuels and chemicals, and mineralization into inorganic materials:

Carbon Conversion
Major Carbon Conversion Product Pathways


Carbon Uptake Into Algae And Bioproducts

The biomass produced in algal systems can be processed and converted to chemicals, fish and animal feeds, human dietary supplements, soil amendments, and other specialty and fine products. The Carbon Conversion Program is working to develop economical adoption of biomass cultivation practices that consume CO2 that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere. Current focus is on the cultivation of microalgae or blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in outdoor ponds or photobioreactors. Ongoing R&D addresses CO2 capture, conditioning, transport, and transfer to the algal medium in order to maximize CO2 uptake and minimize the cost of CO2 delivery.

Catalytic Conversion Into Fuels And Chemicals

Conversion pathways can include thermochemical, electrochemical, photochemical, plasma-assisted, and microbially mediated approaches. Many approaches require catalysts or integrated processes to lower the energy needed to drive these systems. Via this pathway, waste carbon can be transformed into higher-value products such as synthetic fuels, chemicals, plastics, and solid carbon products like carbon fibers. Currently, the manufacture of value-added chemicals, polymers, and other products often involves complex, multiple chemical synthesis steps; however, other novel approaches are being explored, including multifunctional nanocatalysis, biological catalysis, and process-intensified conversion systems.

Mineralization Into Inorganic Materials

Carbon dioxide mineralizes with alkaline reactants to produce inorganic materials, such as cements, aggregates, bicarbonates, and associated inorganic chemicals. Carbonate materials may be an effective long-term storage option for CO2, especially for use in the built environment. R&D in this area seeks to react CO2 with industrial alkaline sources, including wastes to manufacture valuable products and reduce CO2 emissions from existing production processes. The Carbon Conversion Program is pursuing R&D that increases process performance and optimizes CO2 conversion rates, capacity, and energy use efficiencies while producing a product with equivalent or superior performance properties compared to current commercial products.

The diverse portfolio of NETL’s Carbon Conversion projects can be viewed in the interactive map below. Projects can be sorted by Technology Area. Clicking on a location allows you to learn more about each individual project. Note that the Carbon Conversion Program does not support R&D of CO2 as a working fluid for applications such as enhanced oil recovery, supercritical CO2 power cycles, or for any application where the carbon is not converted into a value-added product.


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NETL implements this effort as part of DOE’s Clean Coal and Carbon Management Program.

Technology area contact:
Joseph Stoffa