MONOLITHOS, a company actively engaged in the ambitious ECO2Fuel project, has marked significant milestones in the field of electrocatalyst development and environmental sustainability. This article highlights the key achievements and challenges faced by MONOLITHOS in this groundbreaking endeavor.
Achievements of MONOLITHOS in ECO2Fuel
1. Stable Scaling of NiFeOx Electrocatalyst: A notable accomplishment is the successful scaling up of the NiFeOx electrocatalyst process. This scaling has remarkably maintained the structure, composition, morphology and performance of the electrocatalyst, ensuring its effectiveness and reliability.
2. Development of Cu2O Electrocatalyst: The Cu2O electrocatalyst, developed under the ECO2Fuel project, has shown exceptional results. Its potential has been recognized with the decision to upscale its production, indicating its pivotal role in future applications.
3. Enhanced Anode Catalyst Activity: The company has fully achieved its milestone regarding the enhancement of anode catalyst activity. This improvement signifies a leap forward in the efficiency and effectiveness of the catalysts used.
4. Progress in Cathode Catalyst Activity: The cathodic catalyst milestone has been successfully achieved by MONOLITHOS, demonstrating significant advancements in enhanced cathode catalyst activity. This progress is a testament to the company’s commitment to continuous improvement in catalyst development.
5. High Leaching Efficiencies: In an environmental triumph, the company has achieved over 99% leaching efficiencies for Cu and Ni from End-of-Life Membrane Electrode Assemblies (EoL MEAs). This was accomplished using an environmentally friendly hydrometallurgical leaching process, marking a significant step in sustainable practices.
6. Innovation with PtPd/CeZrO4 Catalyst: The synthesis of a PtPd/CeZrO4 catalyst through a wet impregnation process represents another innovative stride. This catalyst is set to be tested under simulated conditions involving diesel, biodiesel, and alcohol blends.
Challenges Faced by MONOLITHOS
Despite these achievements, MONOLITHOS faces certain challenges in the ECO2Fuel project:
1. Cathodic Performance Targets: One of the main challenges is achieving the high-performance targets set for the cathodic aspect of the project. Meeting these targets is crucial for the overall success and efficiency of the project.
2. Supply Chain Delays: There is a potential risk of delays in acquiring necessary materials, such as electrocatalyst precursors, equipment, and other essential components. These delays could impact the project timeline and its milestones.
MONOLITHOS’s involvement in the ECO2Fuel project has been marked by significant achievements, particularly in the development and scaling of innovative electrocatalysts and in advancing environmentally friendly processes. However, challenges such as meeting high-performance targets and potential supply chain delays pose hurdles that need to be navigated. The company’s continued dedication and innovative approach will be key in overcoming these challenges and achieving further success in sustainable energy solutions.
In a world grappling with the challenges of climate change, the ECO2Fuel project emerges as a beacon of innovative solutions. This informative video delves into the heart of ECO2Fuel, a cutting-edge initiative aimed at converting CO2 emissions into sustainable fuels. Through engaging visuals and expert insights, the video unravels how this project harnesses renewable energy to mitigate environmental impacts. It’s a must-watch for anyone interested in the future of green technology and the European Union’s strides towards a sustainable future. Get ready to be inspired and enlightened by this groundbreaking journey into a cleaner, greener tomorrow.
The actors in the R&D ecosystem find themselves facing the “European Paradox“, according to which the research system encounters difficulty in translating scientific advancements into market-ready and user-friendly solutions. We are therefore faced with thousands of research projects funded by public funds, which have developed significant and numerous results, of which only a few have been used, thus failing to fully unleash their transformative potential in terms of social, economic, and scientific impact/value. Experience shows that this transformative potential can only be realized through effective use of the results, enabled by the implementation of exploitation and dissemination activities.
Sometimes, this paradox is also generated by the tendency to conceive the strategies for using results downstream of the research processes and not in consistence with the development of new solutions. All of this creates a gap between the challenge and its response. To bridge this gap, initial steps have been taken at the European level, where the guiding principles for the implementation of Horizon Europe directly connect the maximisation of impacts (scientific, social, and economic) to the implementation of exploitation, dissemination, and communication activities, in synergy with other programmes and initiatives as well. In this process, which we can also attempt to apply to projects funded under Horizon 2020, such as ECO2Fuel, it becomes clear how the use of knowledge developed through publicly funded research plays a crucial role in enabling systemic transformations and mobilising associated benefits. Maximizing the long-term effect of investments in R&I involves all actors in the value chains and requires that research results become solutions capable of generating economic, social, and scientific value.
Citizens expect research to be a driving force in the transition towards a greener economy and a more equitable society. For this to happen, research results must be made available and used. It is the responsibility of the research community to actively participate in this process, ensuring that the knowledge developed transforms into solutions that bring value and benefits at the social, economic, and scientific levels. Alongside scientific excellence, the exploitation of research results, dissemination, and communication complete the innovation potential of research. They form the foundation on which scientific excellence rests, enabling the use, adoption of innovation, and its acceptance by potential users and citizens who will be informed, made aware, and ready to support ongoing processes.
The recent example of the fight against the Coronavirus has demonstrated the crucial role of research and innovation (R&I) in bringing benefits to our societies, making them resilient, and supporting the recovery of our economy. Only through the use of these new solutions can they become the driving force in overcoming this challenge. Without a predefined utilisation of results through exploitation and dissemination trajectories, it will not be possible to transform the outcome into benefits and, therefore, impact.
A (possible) SOLUTION: The problem-based approach
The need is to make available solutions (research results) that best address/solve the needs/problems of a specific target (explicit or latent), shortening the development cycles of solutions (products, services, etc.), optimizing the use of available resources, and evaluating whether a proposed usage model is feasible or not. Experience suggests that a good response to this need is offered by the Lean Startup approach. This approach combines hypothesis-based experimentation and product testing to validate the result, involving the early potential adopters of the solution: the “early adopters”.
An important partner
The “early adopters” being guided by the problem include those who will adopt the solution starting from the development phase. This way the risk that the misalignment between demand and supply of “solutions” generates failure and undermines our expectations is minimised. Therefore, it is important to identify the problem bearers (the target group for exploitation and dissemination): the so-called “early adopters“.
The next step is to move from this initial nucleus of adopters to an “early majority”. In this growth process, it is noticeable how many innovators fail to reach the “early majority” because they are unable to engage the “early adopters” correctly, thus blocking a virtuous and sustainable process of solution adoption.” The “early adopters” are thus the bridge that allows the transition from the laboratory to the “early majority,” representing the “market.” They are the ones to involve from the beginning of the research activity design phase and subsequently in the testing and validation phases of assumptions and the solution itself. This will enable us to prepare a plan for the use of the result and for any progress in terms of Technology Readiness Level (TRL).
This process is precisely what ECO2Fuel is implementing right now in its journey towards to use and impact. Currently, ECO2Fuel partners have identified Key Exploitable Results (KERs), and a problem-oriented characterization path has been undertaken. Its first crucial moment starts from January 2024 with the celebration of the first Exploitation Strategy Seminar involving all partners developing the KERs. It intends to leverage them after the project’s completion. This will be a lengthy journey involving us throughout the project’s duration, but the goal is precisely to make ECO2Fuel’s results available to play a role in building economic, social, and scientific value at the European level.
 Eric Ries – “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses – Crown Currency – Sept. 2011.
 Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, Free Press of Glencoe, Macmillan Company, 1962.
 Ibidem – It can be asserted that innovators are those who “utilise” the “alpha” version (2.5%, often an industrial partner in a research and development project); the “early adopters” are the customers ready to “use” the “beta” version (13.5%).
The ECO2Fuel consortium is proud to announce the addition of three distinguished members to its team, each bringing a wealth of knowledge and expertise to our innovative and sustainable energy mission.
Daniele Costa joins us as a seasoned Senior Researcher and Project Manager in Sustainable Energy Systems Assessment & Modelling at VITO. With over 15 years in the field, Daniele has a profound understanding of life cycle thinking tools, including prospective Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA). Her prestigious career spans across major energy industry companies and renowned universities like the University of Porto and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). Daniele is an acclaimed author of over 30 peer-reviewed publications and has played significant roles in various R&D projects, particularly those funded by the European Union. Her expertise is especially relevant in bioenergy, bioeconomy, and forest-based industries.
At VITO, Daniele dedicates her efforts to the prospective sustainability assessment of energy technologies in H2020 and HEurope Projects, contributing to groundbreaking work in projects such as PERCISTAND, SOLMATE, CIRCUSOL, and SITA. Daniele is an accomplished academic, holding a PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Porto and degrees in environmental engineering, energy planning, and occupational health and safety from other esteemed institutions.
Gustavo Ezequiel Martinez has recently joined VITO, bringing his fresh and innovative perspective to the team. Gustavo, a chemical engineering graduate from Universidad Nacional de Tucumán, also holds a Nordic master’s degree with honours in Innovative and Sustainable Energy Engineering from Chalmers/Aalto University. His master thesis offered valuable insights into the influence of policies on the carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCUS) system development in Sweden.
At VITO, Gustavo is deeply involved in assessing emerging energy technologies for EU-funded projects, employing LCA and other sustainability tools. His role in the ECO2Fuel project is particularly crucial, where he evaluates the environmental impacts of the value chain using prospective LCA.
Gabriela Espadas Aldana is the latest addition, having joined the Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (VITO) team. Gabriela’s rich educational background includes a PhD in Agro-resource sciences from the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse, a bachelor’s degree in Chemical-Industrial-Engineering from the Autonomous University of Yucatán, and a master’s degree in Green Chemistry and Processes for Biomass from INP Toulouse-ENSIACET.
Her doctoral research focused on the sustainability of French olive oil production through LCA. Gabriela is not only an academic but also brings practical experience as an Environmental Consultant, having conducted several LCA and Circular Economy projects in the private and public sectors. At VITO, she continues to assess the environmental impact of future-oriented energy technologies. Within ECO2Fuel, as part of the VITO-SESAM-LCA team, Gabriela will evaluate the sustainability of the full value chain using the LCA methodology.
In the progressive world of CO2 Electrolysis, milestones MS9 and MS10 mark significant advancements, albeit with unique challenges. The recent achievement in MS9 was notable, as the cell potential reached an impressive 300mA/cm2 at 2V per cell. This indicates a substantial improvement in efficiency and performance, albeit not fully meeting the set milestone.
Turning to MS10, significant strides were made in material selection. The milestone involved the critical selection and freezing of Gas Diffusion Layers (GDLs) and catalysts for both anode and cathode sides. This decision is crucial as it lays the foundation for the future efficiency and reliability of the fuel cells.
However, these advancements didn’t come without their challenges. One of the primary issues encountered was the stability of the test in terms of operational hours. This was primarily due to the clogging of the flow field, a result of salt precipitation. This phenomenon poses a significant threat to the consistent operation and longevity of the fuel cells.
In response to these challenges, researchers and engineers are diligently studying new procedures to mitigate these issues. Developing strategies to avoid clogging and ensure uninterrupted operation is a top priority. Another obstacle that surfaced was related to the scaling up of the substrate and the supplying materials. This highlights the complexities involved in transitioning from laboratory-scale successes to large-scale, commercially viable solutions.
Despite these challenges, the progress made in milestones MS9 and MS10 is a testament to the ongoing innovation in CO2 Electrolysis. As solutions to these challenges are developed, we can expect further advancements in this promising field, paving the way for more sustainable and efficient energy solutions.
Faria joined DLR in November 2023 as part of the ECO2Fuel project, where she focused on the scale-up of electrochemical cells and the design of catalyst layers to efficiently convert CO2 into value-added fuels and alcohols. During her doctoral research, she investigated the influence of the gas diffusion layer to enhance the mass transport of CO2 into the catalyst layer. Additionally, she tuned the catalyst layer with bimetallic alloys to produce certain alcohols with high Faradaic efficiency. She also tested various adhesion layers, such as polymers and ionomers, to prevent the premature delamination of the catalyst layer during the electrochemical reduction reaction.
During her master’s at the Ruhr University of Bochum, Faria worked on developing electrochemical biosensors. A significant part of her work involved successfully developing a flow cell system for electrochemical protein synthesis.
She is very excited to continue her work in optimizing electrochemical methods for reducing CO2 into value-added fuels and alcohols. Learning about the developments made in recent years by members of the ECO2Fuel project has been inspiring for her. Faria hopes to contribute similarly in developing efficient renewable energy systems for CO2 reduction in this project.
Hydrolite has continuously improved its anion exchange membrane, reaching several important milestones. Ethanol crossover has been reduced by an order of magnitude, from 12 mA/cm2 to 0.3 mA/cm2 (70 °C, 0.5 M in 1 M OH) as shown in Figure 1.
As ethanol is one of the desired products from the CO2 electrolysis, it is crucial to prevent from crossing over the membrane.
Figure 1: Ethanol crossover versus temperature for older generation (left) and newer generation (right) membranes produced at Hydrolite.
Using a setup specially developed at DTU, CO2 crossover could be measured for various membranes. It is now understood that CO2 crossover increases significantly with increasing current, meaning the CO2 is mainly driven by ionic current crossing the membrane from the cathode to the anode. It was shown the Hydrolite membrane displays lower crossover of CO2 than a commercially available membrane as showed in Figure 2.
It is important to mention that those improvements were achieved without compromising the hydroxide conductivity of the membrane (> 150 mS/cm at 60 C, in-plane, 100 %RH). One remaining challenge is reaching the mechanical tensile strength target of 20 MPa at 60 °C. Recent developments have shown an improvement of the tensile strength of Hydrolite membranes from 4 to 17 MPa, hence approaching the target. We are confident that this milestone will be reached soon.
On the fabrication side, Hydrolite delivered to its partners about 10 m2 of large size membrane for the CO2 electrolyser prototype. Significant efforts are being invested to further scale up the membrane fabrication for the supply of 100 m2 of high quality membranes for the demonstrator stack in early 2025.
Figure 2: Hydrolite membrane (bottom) showing improved CO2 barrier as compared to commercial membrane (top)
Last week, members of the project alliance convened virtually for an engaging 4th general assembly meeting. The assembly centred on reviewing the significant advancements from the last six months and planning future actions. On the second day, META hosted an enlightening Dissemination and Exploitation workshop.
4th ECO2Fuel General Assembly Meeting
This session highlighted the team’s impressive progress in recent times, as we passionately move forward with the ECO2Fuel project goals and the pioneering construction of the world’s inaugural 1MW direct CO2 electrolyser.
How Lowering the Costs of CO2 Electrolyzers Can Enable Cheap Renewable Fuel Production
The fluctuating power from renewable energy sources like wind and solar presents challenges for directly connecting to CO2 electrolysers to produce renewable fuels. But reducing the capital costs of CO2 electrolysers could enable cheap decentralized production leveraging intermittent renewable electricity.
Capex Influences Levelled Fuel Costs
The upfront capital expenditure (capex) of building a CO2 electrolyser system includes costs like materials, reactors, instruments, and infrastructure. This fixed capex investment is spread over the total fuel production when calculating levelled fuel costs.
A higher electrolyser capex directly increases levelled fuel costs. Capex must be balanced against factors like operating costs, electricity consumption, utilization rate, and system lifetime.
Maximizing Utilization Lowers Levelled Costs
The key to minimizing the impact of capex on levelled costs is to maximize utilization – the amount of hours annually the electrolyser can run at full capacity. Greater utilization spreads the fixed capex over more fuel production, lowering overall costs.
Connecting electrolysers directly to renewable energy sites enables maximum utilization. Wind and solar provide cheap, intermittent power that allows steady operation when renewable electricity is abundant.
For example, doubling annual operating hours from 4000 to 8000 can lower levelled fuel costs by 41% in cost analysis models. So the more hours an electrolyser can be utilized annually, the faster the initial capex is paid down through fuel production.
Capex Targets for Competitive Fuel Costs
Experts estimate CO2 electrolyser capex must fall below $250/kW with renewable power input to produce hydrocarbon fuels costing $100-200/ton. Current capex remains over $1000/kW, indicating 4-10X cost reductions are needed.
Potential strategies for lowering capex include new earth-abundant catalysts, improved manufacturing techniques, larger volumes, and simplified system designs. The rapid growth of renewables provides ideal timing for adopting cost-competitive CO2 electrolysers.
Intermittency Challenge of Renewables
But the intermittent nature of renewables makes full utilization of high capex electrolysers difficult. For example, wind may only enable 30% annual capacity factor. This means an electrolyser designed for continuous 24/7 operation would sit idle 70% of the time!
Grid Dependence Locks in High Costs
High capex systems have large fixed costs for equipment depreciation and financing. The only way to spread this is maximum production by paying for grid electricity during idle times.
For a $100M electrolyser, fixed costs of $5M annually require 8000 hours of operation. Purchasing grid power for $50/MWh during idle times leads to $13M total annual costs.
Low Capex Enables Grid Independence
In contrast, a $20M electrolyser with $1M annual fixed costs can be profitable with just 4000 operational hours annually. Avoiding grid power purchases offsets lower utilization rates.
This grid independence enables locating directly at renewable sites to leverage intermittent wind and solar power once capex is low enough. On-site production from renewables can potentially lead to very low fuel costs.
The Bottom Line
Reducing CO2 electrolyser capex will be key for unlocking favourable economics of renewable fuel production. Low capex systems can overcome the intermittency of renewable electricity sources to produce low-carbon fuels and chemicals at costs capable of competing with fossil fuel incumbents.
The Race to Develop Efficient Catalysts for CO2 Electrolysis
As nations around the world strive to combat climate change, new technologies are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One promising area is CO2 electrolysis—using renewable electricity to convert CO2 into value-added carbon-based fuels and chemicals. However, realizing this technology at scale requires overcoming key challenges in the development of electrocatalysts.
Electrocatalysts accelerate the reactions at electrodes to drive the CO2 conversion process. But efficiently catalyzing CO2 reduction reactions has proven difficult. The process requires high energy input to activate the stable CO2 molecule, often resulting in high overpotentials. This leads to low efficiency and selectivity.
To make CO2 electrolysis commercially viable, scientists must discover new catalysts that can:
Drive CO2 reduction at high rates but with low overpotentials, maintaining a high electrical efficiency.
Selectively produce target fuels like methanol or ethanol rather than a mixture of products.
Use abundant, non-critical materials for scalability and avoiding supply risks.
Demonstrate long-term stability for sustained industrial operation.
Allow high catalytic activity at the low temperatures optimal for the polymer membranes and cells.
Be produced economically at scale and integrated into electrode and cell fabrication.
Both the cathode and anode reactions require next-gen electrocatalyst innovation. On the cathode side, copper-based materials have shown promise for converting CO2 to hydrocarbons and alcohols. But further tuning through nanostructuring and doping is needed to enhance selectivity and reduce overpotentials.
Meanwhile, non-precious metal alternatives are needed for the oxygen evolution reaction at the anode. Metal oxides like nickel-iron oxides have potential but require optimization for activity and durability.
Researchers are also investigating innovative techniques like computational modeling and machine learning to accelerate electrocatalyst discovery and optimization.
By surmounting these interlinked catalyst challenges, researchers can unlock the full potential of CO2 electrolysis in the urgent fight against climate change. The race is on to develop the robust, selective, and scalable catalysts needed to turn CO2 into fuels sustainably.