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Researchers Investigate Transformation To A Circular Carbon Economy
August 7, 2019

Over the course of millions of years, Earth has devised many efficient ways of maintaining carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere such as sequestration by forests and oceans to the formation of limestone and fossil fuels by long-dead organisms.

Unfortunately, activities both natural and manmade are now contributing to the release of more CO2 to the atmosphere than the earth’s natural processes can handle.

Now, however, according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne), researchers are looking to the concept of a circular carbon economy as part of an effort to alleviate that problem.

In its most simple form, the circular carbon economy is about changing mindsets, whether corporate or individual, from an attitude of ?“make it, break it, throw it away” to one of ?“reuse and recycle.”

According to Cristina Negri, director of Argonne’s Environmental Sciences division, “It’s an alternative economy that takes into consideration the reuse, recovery and recycling of carbon-containing materials to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, creating a loop that incorporates the same carbon over and over into different products.”

Although adoption of this concept has been embraced throughout much of the world, it remains a relatively new concept in the United States, however it is starting to gain traction among corporations that recognize its positive economic and environmental impact, noted Meltem Urgun-Demirtas, a group leader of process development research in Argonne’s Applied Materials division.

Drs. Negri and Urgun-Demirtas help companies develop strategies that will account for byproducts and waste and repurpose them for use as new products or energy. But doing so is no small task and requires the resources to track, recover and process those dissipated materials.

“We have found that many companies don’t have the resources that Argonne has to achieve some of these goals. So our aim is to help a company examine its processes and suggest a specific circular economy approach,” explained Dr. Urgun-Demirtas, who is also Argonne’s laboratory relationship manager for DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), which resides within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Globally, there are many projects that examine different ways of utilizing waste stream CO2 — from creating liquid fuels using renewable energy to developing synthetic concrete.

Invariably, the key to the success of any circular carbon economy strategy is to ensure that the energy put into any system is less than the energy that comes out.

“The ability to achieve that goal is what makes Argonne a key factor for companies looking to develop this approach,” noted Dr. Urgun-Demirtas. ?“We have a highly diverse workforce with the resources to help them assess economic feasibility, model their processes and identify whether those processes are resilient.”

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