To achieve a global transition to a low-carbon energy system within the coming decades, carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies can and should play a vital role in limiting or even reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. These technologies hold great promise for ameliorating the effects of excess emissions by capturing CO2—particularly from industrial operations and power facilities—and storing it safely.
Current CCUS technology has been demonstrated at the million-ton-of-CO2 scale at about 20 facilities worldwide; however, there is great opportunity for improvements in both cost and performance.
The development of improved technologies for carbon capture, utilization, and storage will require a wide range of expertise—from novel chemistry, biology, and engineering for capture to subsurface science and engineering at field scale for storage. It will also require cross-disciplinary research in engineering, science, and policy, as well as strong collaborations among academia, industry, and government.
These elements are combined through MIT’s CCUS Center, one of the Low-Carbon Energy Centers developed by the MIT Energy Initiative to advance technologies key to addressing climate change.
Goals and Approach
The goals of the CCUS Center are to:
- Promote research through in-depth interactions between industry, government, and academia; multiple industrial sectors; and diverse academic disciplines;
- Shorten development time for getting research programs up and running: managing the uncertainty through ongoing assessment;
- Focus on enabling technologies that hold the key to innovative and transformative breakthroughs; and
- Work with industrial members to move new ideas into the world at scale
The CCUS Center draws on MIT’s faculty members’ extensive existing research capability to focus on three major areas: capture, utilization, and geologic storage. To solve the challenges associated with CCUS, participants in the Center apply innovative technology in fields such as molecular simulation; materials design; catalytic processes; fluid mechanics; seismic, geodetic, and electromagnetic imaging; and systems analysis. In addition to the technology focus, the Center’s research capability includes economics, policy, regulatory, and business expertise.
Additionally, the Center’s techno-economic and systems analysis group focuses on technology assessments, economic modeling, and an analysis of the regulatory and political aspects of deploying CCUS technologies at scale. Interactions with Center members help guide the direction of this work.
- Electrochemically modulated carbon capture: New technologies in which the affinity of separations media can be facilitated through electrochemical changes in oxidation state of either the CO2 complexing agent directly, or of an additive that competes with the complexing agent and displaces the CO2 in the regeneration step.
- Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs): An emerging technology for gas storage and separation. MIT researchers are working to devise new methods that will afford the synthesis and deposition of MOF thin films.
- Metal oxide covalent network ultrathin films: These films exhibit high permeabilities and selectivities for the separation of CO2 from gas mixtures relative to membrane materials currently under consideration for scrubbing smokestack emissions.
- High temperature metal oxide adsorbents: New adsorbent materials are tailored to provide very high CO2 capacities at elevated temperatures for treatment of CO2-rich gases at process temperatures.
CO2 reduction and utilization:
- Electrochemical CO2 fixation: State-of-the art catalytic methods for using low-carbon renewable electricity to drive the conversion of CO2 into fuels, commodity chemicals, and critical materials.
- Thermochemical CO2 fixation: Advanced catalytic materials for combining CO2 and renewable-derived hydrogen to generate diverse linchpin chemical intermediates and fuel precursors.
- Molecular simulation: Identifying and designing better catalytic materials for CO2 utilization across both electrochemical and thermochemical pathways.
- Fluid dynamics: Investigating how liquids spread, flow, and puddle at all levels, from the molecular, to the pore, to the fracture, to the reservoir in order to better describe multiphase flows in complex field systems.
- Geochemical processes: Understanding how CO2 reacts with the pore fluids and host rocks in the subsurface, altering permeability and strength, and leading to permanent storage via mineralization.
- Geophysical imaging: Imaging increasingly complicated geological environments to develop a more thorough understanding of the opportunities and risks of underground carbon storage.
- Formation testing, monitoring, and verification: Addressing the challenges of borehole science, fractured reservoirs, reservoir monitoring, and near-surface environmental geophysics.
The goal of these projects is to explore new areas that can advance the application of CCUS technology. The Center looks for innovative faculty members and challenges them to use their expertise to solve problems in CCUS through Center member-supported seed funding. The Center currently has four exploratory research projects:
- Formation of isoporous free volume elements using UV acidolysis reactions (Zachary P. Smith, Chemical Engineering)
- Electrochemical manufacturing of methanol from carbon dioxide feedstocks (Karthish Manthiram, Chemical Engineering)
- Investigation of the feasibility of CO2 storage in basalts (Timothy L. Grove, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences)
- First-principles computational design of novel electrocatalysts for CO2 conversion to methanol (Alexie Kolpak, Mechanical Engineering)