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Oxalic acid from CO2 using Eletrochemistry At demonstratioN scale

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - OCEAN (Oxalic acid from CO2 using Eletrochemistry At demonstratioN scale)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-09-30

What is the problem/issue being addressed?
Despite electrochemistry and electrosynthesis being known for decades, application of electrochemical synthesis in industry so far is limited. OCEAN will contribute to develop new advanced electrochemical methodologies to overcome current challenges and create new applications for electrochemistry.

The electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to formate is currently probably one of the most developed, compared to other electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide. However, despite formic acid being a high valued product, the market is concentrated, small and mature. Therefore, OCEAN aims at integrating the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide by producing oxalic acid and high-value products made thereof.

We demonstrate in the project, by techno-economic and LCA analyses, that it is necessary to address C2 products from CO2, rather than formate/formic acid to create strong business cases and thus make a significant step forward in bringing electrochemical technologies to the market, fully integrated in a chemical process.

In OCEAN, we develop the technologies, up to TRL 6, to realize industrially the value chain in producing C2 chemicals from CO2 by electrocatalytic routes assisted by other technologies.

Why is it important for society?
This project will reduce the environmental impact of society (reducing its CO2 footprint) by enabling a change from fossil based and first-generation feedstocks to what is basically a limitless resource. Treating carbon dioxide as a resource instead of a waste product will have major ramifications.

If captured carbon dioxide is used to produce glycolic acid and oxalic acid and subsequently consumer products thereof, petroleum-based counterparts can be replaced in the market. The replacement of the petroleum-based counterpart with carbon dioxide-based intermediates can reduce the imports of crude oil and in general reduce the dependency on raw material imports.

These technologies offer new perspectives also to close the carbon-cycle in energy-intensive industries.

What are the overall objectives?
The overall objectives of the OCEAN project are to
1) provide a proof of the economic and industrial feasibility of the electrochemical technology to convert carbon dioxide
2) develop and demonstrate innovative electrochemical technologies to overcome current challenges in electrochemistry
3) Integration of the electrochemical technologies into industrial operations
OCEAN is a four-year project, organized in three consecutive phases. The first phase (first 2 years) was dedicated to the development of new electrochemical technologies (coupled electrosynthesis, acidification using bipolar membranes and novel electrocatalyst development) as well as upscaling and optimization of the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide in an industrial context. Also, new electrocatalysis were compared with chemocatalysis to produce high-value products, made out of the reduction products of CO2.

The second phase (third year) was devoted to the optimization, engineering and manufacturing. The project has actually ended the 2nd reporting period, e.g. the first 36 months of activity. The further period will be dedicated to testing and demonstration/validation of the industrial feasibility, with tests also under environmentally relevant conditions (TRL 6). OCEAN project is structured in 9 interlinked workpackages (WP).

During the first period (first 18th months) most of the WPs were active, except WP6 (LCA). Except few tasks ended in the 1st period, most of the tasks and all WPs were active in the 2nd reporting period. The activities were in good agreement with those planned, but with some delays related to general pandemic situation that limited most of the activities and caused delays. Except for some shift due to these aspects, no main issues are present in deliverables and milestones, which were achieved according to expectations with minor changes subjected to two amendments, with a third in progress.

The first WP1 is dedicated CO2 reduction in Demo Cell. WP1 main objective is to demonstrate the industrial feasibility of the electrochemical cell for CO2 conversion to formate. WP2 was dedicated to paired electrosynthesis. The objective is the development of an anode and anodic reaction coupled with the carbon dioxide reduction. WP3 is dedicated to formate to oxalate conversion. This WP is mainly focused on the design and manufacturing of a TRL4 reactor to convert formate into oxalate. The process design specifications have been completed. Furthermore, the optimization of the process conditions to obtain high product yields of formate is under study.

WP4 is dedicated to carboxylate salt splitting with bipolar membranes. The major objective in this WP is to design and functionalize the hybrid cell in which on the anode side sugar oxidation is being carried out and on cathode side the electrochemical reduction of oxalic acid is made. These two chambers are being coupled by an electrodialysis/ acidification unit. WP5 is related to high-value products from formate and oxalate. The main objective is to produce high-value products from streams deriving from WPs1-4.

WP6 is dedicated to process assessment. Based on LCA analysis, the objective of this WP is to make a process assessment with quantification of environmental impact. WP7 is dedicated to business case and exploitation strategy. First aim of WP7 is to determine the business case for OCEAN’s products and key technologies. Second aim is to devise and continuously revise an exploitation strategy. Initial activities have been made in the 2nd period for both WP6 and WP7. WP8 aims at the dissemination and communication of project results throughout Europe and beyond.

Finally, WP9 is dedicated to coordination and project management. The objectives are to ensure a sound coordination and management of the project covering technical, administrative and financial issues.
OCEAN demonstrates the possibility of a new value chain to produce C2 chemicals from CO2 and renewable energy via electrocatalysis. Non-renewable feedstock uses and greenhouse gas emissions can be substantially reduced compared to petro-based plastics by using captive carbon dioxide. A significant saving of > 30% in energy-intensity and greenhouse gas emissions is expected, with a great impulse on the development of an electrocatalytic-based industry in Europe and in general in strengthening the global position of European process industry.

OCEAN will enable new routes to existing (bulk) chemicals with a significant market value. Initial Techno-economic assessments have shown potential production cost advantages for the target products. Updated business cases will be developed in the OCEAN project.

Between relevant impact elements of the project the following can be indicated:

a. Demonstrate novel electrocatalytic processes up to TRL 6
b. Develop improved electrocatalytic technologies
c. Develop improved electrocatalysts
d. Demonstrate feasibility of the novel value chain of CO2 to C2 chemicals
e. Develop improved hydrogenation catalysts for the selective reduction of oxalic acid as alternative to electrocatalytic one

Turning carbon dioxide into an opportunity rather than liability has the potential to bring huge benefits to chemical producers, companies producing (waste) CO2, brand owners, and the environment.