World’s First Commercial CO2 to Methanol Plant
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The George Olah CO2 to methanol plant, commissioned in April 2012, currently produces ~ 5 million liters/year renewable methanol and capture and convert up to ~ 5600 ton CO2/year [Lim 2016, Nature, 526(630)]. This Carbon Recycling International (CRI) plant is located in Svartsengi, near Grindavik, Iceland. The process was originally developed by a small CRI team in Reykjavik, and has undergone several iterations to arrive at the present state of technology and functionality. Taking the process from pilot scale to industrial scale was not trivial. Several difficulties encountered along the way were resolved to arrive at the current robust version of the technology. The high purity renewable methanol currently produced is sold as gasoline additive, similar to ethanol in the USA. Perhaps the most consequential lesson learned from this enterprise is that producing methanol from CO2 need not be as expensive as most experts estimated; the production cost of the ‘green methanol’ produced at the George Olah plant is only approximately twice that of natural gas derived methanol. A second interesting lesson involves the optimal process configuration: There exist two viable catalytic routes to convert CO2 to methanol. The most familiar option is to first reduce CO2 to CO through the RWGS reaction and then reduce CO with H2 to methanol in a second step or reactor. The CRI process instead implements the direct hydrogenation of CO2 with H2 over a mixed metal oxide catalyst. The presentation will include a brief history of the R&D and early development of the process, followed by a discussion of selected process features. Currently two world-wide implementation opportunities are actively pursued, namely the transformation of stranded H2 into a liquid commodity and a combined CCU and energy storage option for intermittent renewables. The presentation will conclude with a motivation for the ongoing research addressing the main barriers to bringing renewable CO2-derived methanol even closer to becoming cost competitive with refinery CH4-derived methanol.