Interview with i-deal’s Rocío Pacios, project coordinator for the Methanol Fuel from CO2 H2020 project

1) First things first – what does MefCO2 stand for?

Rocío Pacios (RP): MefCO2 is the abbreviation of the ‘Methanol Fuel from CO2’ H2020 project, which started in December 2014 and will finish in June 2019. The project is based on the topic ‘SPIRE-02-2014 - Adaptable industrial processes allowing the use of renewables as flexible feedstock for chemical and energy applications‘.

2) Where does the idea for MefCO2 come from?

RP: Europe is working hard towards an energy transition in which the reduction of greenhouse emissions is playing a very important role. The EC encourages, among others, the use of waste as raw material in industry to produce green chemical buildings and energy. In this scenario, Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) technologies are being developed and deployed to help energy-intensive industries to transition towards a low carbon economy. The MefCO2 project concept lies in the utilization of ordinarily emitted greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which is produced through electrolysis, to produce flexible methanol. We have a pilot plant in Germany and we are carrying out different test campaigns to demonstrate the potential of the technology.

3) MefCO2 has a total of 9 partners within its consortium. What areas of expertise are present in this project?

RP: That is true, 9 partners from 7 European countries are making the MefCO2 project possible. This is indeed a multidisciplinary Consortium, with experts in different fields such as materials research, chemical engineering, research in catalyst synthesis, catalysis and reaction engineering, CO2 capture, conventional power generation (lignite) and nuclear power, engineering plant integration, CO2 to methanol synthesis, power to gas, hydrogen generation, hydrogen fuel cells development, techno-economic analysis and plant simulations, business development, dissemination, networking, project management… and I am sure there are some other fields I have forgotten on that list. In any case, I am sure without such a multidisciplinary Consortium, the MefCO2 project would have never got so far.

4) Is it difficult to be the project coordinator of such a big EU project?

RP: It is actually a very challenging and intensive job but, at the same time, it is a very good experience to be in the center of a very interesting technology development and deployment. Such technology is meant to change the current energy system and to influence the way the society produces and consumes energy. Also, for me it is very enriching to work with a variety of scientists and engineers from different parts of Europe: Slovenia, Italy, Iceland, UK, Germany, and Belgium.

5) What impacts can be expected from MefCO2?

RP: the expected impact of MefCO2 is huge, not only at a European level but also internationally. The most relevant impacts I foresee are:

  1. Economically viable solutions and technologies allowing a reduction in fossil resources intensity:
    • The design, develop and deploy an innovative and modular systems to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy usage by cutting CO₂ emissions. The pilot plant will have a production capacity of 1 ton of methanol using 1,5 ton of CO2 per day.
    • This process will reach such efficiency thanks to the development of the catalyst and the usage of energy surpluses coming from renewable sources. The catalyst is essential from the global reaction engineering perspective since it will decrease the process’ activation energy significantly.
    • The main sources of revenues for the process shall come from the commercialization of methanol. Also, the envisaged process will allow the provision of certain services to grid operators.
  2. Increased utilization of renewables in the industry as feedstock for the production of chemicals and/or fuels as part of an integrated approach to optimize energy efficiency with a proven sustainability.
    • The whole process is environmentally friendly since it allows the capture of CO₂ at the facilities where is being produced. The methanol pilot plan is located at RWE’s power plant site in Niederaussem (Germany) where a CO₂ capture plant is located and operated. The uses of the technology in biogas plants allows the production of specific fuels and/or chemicals thanks to a process not competing with food crops since the feedstock is basically composed of organic, carbonaceous materials.
    • The CO₂, reacting with the H₂ coming from electrolysis using renewables-based surplus power, will be transformed in methanol, a chemical which is a building block for further chemicals of high added value.
    • Some of the chemicals that can be obtained from methanol are the following: formaldehyde (used in construction and wooden boarding), acetic acid, MTBE (fuel component), the formation of methyl esters in the production of bio-diesel. In addition, methanol can be blended with other substances to produce fuels (i.e. mixing with gasoline).
  3. Contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The process uses CO₂ as an input. The expected amount captured in the pilot plant will be about 1.5t per day.
    • The global balance will be positive in terms of CO₂ emission reduction, since the electricity supply will preliminary come from renewable sources and the methanol will partly substitute conventionally synthesized methanol from fossil origin.

6) What are the next steps to be taken for the project development?

RP: The next important step is to analyze and share the results obtained from the test campaign, which is expected to demonstrate the technology in realistic working conditions. We are working hard to build a realistic case for CCU, to demonstrate both, its technical and economic viability. We are also working on a Technology Roadmap which main goal is to define the pathway towards the future commercialization and scale up of plants such as the one we are building in the MefCO2 project.

Contact
Rocío Pacios - Project coordinator
Email: info@mefco2.com
Tel.: +34 91 749 00 00

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement
No 637016.

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