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Oxalic acid from CO2 using Eletrochemistry At demonstratioN scale

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OCEAN (Oxalic acid from CO2 using Eletrochemistry At demonstratioN scale)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-03-31

What is the problem/issue being addressed?
With the increasing share of renewable electricity in the overall energy production, there is a renewed interest in electrochemistry in industry as a clean and carbon-neutral energy source to drive chemical reactions. Despite electrochemistry and electrosynthesis being known for decades, application of electrochemical synthesis in industry so far is limited. Therefore, both the demonstration of electrochemical processes to proof the industrial and economic feasibility, as well as the development of new advanced electrochemical methodologies is needed 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.

In OCEAN, a strong focus will be on integrating electrochemical methodologies into existing and new industrial processes, by investigating further downstream processing of the reduction products of CO2 by hydrogenation of these substrates to create high value products.

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.

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, which will take 2 years, will be 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 will be compared with chemocatalysis for the production of high-value products, made out of the reduction products of CO2.

OCEAN project is structured in 9 interlinked workpackages (WP). These workpackages are related with the concept of OCEAN: demonstration (WP1), new electrochemical methodologies (WP2,4) and integration into industrial operations (WP3,5). WP 6 will investigate the environmental impact. WP 7 will look at the economic feasibility, by making a business case and exploitation strategy. WP8 will disseminate the concept and obtained results. Coordination and management will be performed in WP9.

During the first period (first 18th months) most of the WPs were active, except WP6 (LCA). The activity, summarized shortly below, are in good agreement with those planned. No main issues are also present in deliverables and milestones, which were achieved according to expectations with minor changes subjected to an amendment.

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. A direct heating technology will couple the kinetics of both reactions. 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 objectives 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. This WP is scheduled to start in the next reporting period. 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. Activities started as scheduled and are in progress. 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
From an economic, energetic, and environmental viewpoint, the conversion of renewable resources into clean fuels and chemicals is the only viable solution to meet the growing demand of Europe and the entire World. OCEAN will produce an impact in this scenario via innovative technologies. Non-renewable feedstock use and greenhouse gas emissions can be substantially reduced compared to petro-based plastics by using captive carbon dioxide. In principle a carbon efficiency of almost 100% can be reached. Compare this to current industrial processes where often a carbon must be emitted for each carbon incorporated into the product.

OCEAN will enable new routes to existing (bulk) chemicals with a total market value of 30 Bn. Initial Techno-economic assessments have shown potential production cost advantages for all of the target products. Updated business cases will be developed in the OCEAN project.

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.