Abating global warming will require capture of CO2 from existing facilities such as power plants. However, existing carbon capture processes are too costly mainly because of the excessive power necessary to compress flue gas, and the lack of processes that convert CO2 to valuable products to offset the cost of capture. The US has set the goal of reducing the cost of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to $10 per ton. Towards this aim, Fornax has developed a technology that both reduces cost by capturing CO2 from dilute, low pressure streams such as flue gas (that has been cleaned of SOx) and converts it to dimethyl carbonate (DMC), which is worth $1,500 per ton today.
The market for DMC is currently $440M and expanding at a 7% rate to a projected 600 KTA by 2023. Its major commercial uses are currently as a solvent and methylating reagent. However, there is a significant untapped market potential because DMC is an exceptional fuel oxygenate that can be blended at a refinery rather than splash blended like ethanol. We feel that DMC is an ideal end-product upon which to create a business around monetizing CO2 because it offers several profitable stepping stones in scaling up and stepping down the cost curve. DMC use as a fuel oxygenate has been extensively studied and de-risked. Briefly, it is biodegradable and non-hazardous (non-HAPS and non-VOC), has very low ozone potential (MIR), can be blended at the refinery (with gasoline or diesel), generates the lowest CO and NOx emissions, low toxicity, a high octane of 110, and is approved in California and most other states. Compared to $1.60/gal ethanol, DMC would be worth $840 per ton as a replacement fuel oxygenate.
DMC can be (and is) currently made from CO2 and methanol. However, this process consumes propylene oxide (PO) and produces a propylene glycol (PG) co-product. This is acceptable at a small scale, but not at large scale. On the input side, PO is produced from fossil sources by a complex process that is tightly integrated with its end-use (small merchant market). As such, PO is too expensive for carbon capture. On the product side, PG co-product has a limited market that cannot absorb the supply that would be generated.
We have developed an economical process that converts PG back to PO at nearly ~100% yield. Integrating this process with carbon capture and trans-esterification would close the cycle, allowing DMC to be produced solely from CO2 and methanol, low-cost commodities. The process is inherently scalable, efficient and fast. A techno-economic model from the liter-scale process shows that this solution could eventually beat the incumbent fuel oxygenate (ethanol) in cost, while also providing superior performance and distribution logistics. Full realization of this approach is a global-scale opportunity, with disruption of the basic energy, chemical and material sectors.