Thermochemical, photochemical and electrochemical CO2 conversion are all promising catalytic approaches. Electrochemical methods are especially appealing, because they operate with high reaction rates and good energy efficiencies under ambient conditions. Furthermore, they can be coupled with clean renewable energy sources (e.g., wind and solar), which fields are witnessing a rapid drop in electricity prices. Among others, formic acid, carbon monoxide and ethylene are accessible products of this process (ref. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science 62, 133-154).
Production of many basic chemicals based on the electrochemical conversion of CO2 has the potential to yield the greatest reduction of fossil-fuel derived chemical production. To make this transformative change possible, electricity price has to drop below 4 cents per kWh (which is indeed the case for many countries for different renewables) and the energy conversion efficiency should be above 60%. (ref. De Luna et al. Science 364 (2019) 350).
To drive CO2 electrolysis in an economically feasible way, electrolyzer cells must be developed, which operate:
I. at high current density (conversion rate)
II. at low cell voltage (i.e., high energy efficiency)
III. with high selectivity towards CO2 reduction
IV. with high conversion efficiency.
ALL four parameters together describe the overall performance of an electrolyzer cell. Other companies with their cell designs very seldom describe all parameters together. With our L.E.A.F.™ cell technology we are able to achieve extraordinary performance in all four parameters.
ThalesNano Energy’s patented L.E.A.F.™ (Layered Electrochemical Adaptable Flow) cell is the first published stacked cell, designed for the electrochemical reduction of CO2 (ACS Energy Lett.2019, 4, 1770-1777). Why is this important? Well, stacked cell designs are ubiquitous in both fuel cell and water electrolysis industries. Stacked cells make the processes scalable and more efficient: taking the technology from a lab concept to the real world. Now, with our L.E.A.F.™ cell technology, ThalesNano Energy is doing the same with electrochemical CO2 reduction. Our technology not only utilizes a carefully engineered stack design to increase scale, but also maximizes the flow of CO2 gas to achieve the best conversion and efficiency. The L.E.A.F.™ cell design is thoroughly protected with international patents and fulfils all four of the above requirements.
Depending on the application, our electrolyzer can operate either with extraordinary high conversion rate or conversion efficiency. Due to the adaptable design, it can host various catalysts, which can form different products. So far, carbon monoxide, syngas, methane and ethylene can be generated. More products (e.g., formic acid, ethanol) are coming thanks to the effort of our R&D team.
The L.E.A.F.’s syngas product is so pure, it can be fed directly into other chemical processes, without any treatment, to generate products such as high energy density fuels, methanol, ethanol, etc. or other base chemicals. Furthermore, it can operate with up to 20 bar pressure, which is relevant for several petrochemical sources. This means that the L.E.A.F.™ technology can be more easily and cost effectively integrated into existing infrastructure (both upstream and downstream) compared to existing electrolyzer technology.
With our current set-up, in 2020 we will install a unit that will have the ability to convert 100 tons of CO2/year to syngas. The unique advantage of our stacked L.E.A.F.™ technology is that it is easily scalable. We will therefore seek to increase scale by an order of magnitude every year until we reach our target of 100,000 tons/year.
We work with industrial partners and quality 3rd parties, such as First-Tech kft, to first tailor our L.E.A.F.™ technology offline to generate the chemical product at the scale, process conversion, and efficiency our customers require. These depend on the input CO2 gas quality, electricity source, etc. We then work together to install our technology into their infrastructure at their waste CO2 source and ensure the best performance. This process includes both upstream and downstream integration.