Consensus Report

Gaseous Carbon Waste Streams Utilization: Status and Research Needs (2018)

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In the quest to mitigate the buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere, researchers and policymakers have increasingly turned their attention to techniques for capturing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, either from the locations where they are emitted or directly from the atmosphere. Once captured, these gases can be stored or put to use. While both carbon storage and carbon utilization have costs, utilization offers the opportunity to recover some of the cost and even generate economic value. Estimates suggest the market for waste carbon-derived products could grow to hundreds of billions of dollars within a few decades, utilizing several thousand teragrams of waste carbon gases per year.

Produced at the request of the U.S. Department of Energy and Shell, this report assesses research and development needs relevant to understanding and improving the commercial viability of waste carbon utilization technologies and defines a research agenda to address key challenges. Carbon utilization must be done at scale if it is to play a key role in carbon management. Achieving that scale will depend on the pace of technology development and future energy, market, and regulatory landscapes. There are reasons to be optimistic that both the environmental benefits and economic value of waste carbon utilization technologies could grow substantially in the coming decades. Already there are commercial technologies, operating at relatively small scale, that are or could be using waste gas as their raw materials.

In order to realize the full potential of carbon utilization, the U.S. government and the private sector should implement a multifaceted, multiscale research agenda to create and improve technologies for waste gas utilization. The U.S. federal science agencies should coordinate research and development efforts with the U.S. private sector and with international activities.