Co-research project on CO2 capture with superbases launched within the SPIRIT programme

University of Helsinki is one of the several partners in the Business Finland-funded co-research project focusing on carbon capture technology, aligning with the goals of the SPIRIT programme. We discussed with Professor Timo Repo, an expert in inorganic chemistry at the University of Helsinki, for insights on this groundbreaking two-year co-research project.

The academic background of Professor Timo Repo is rooted in catalysis and green chemistry, with expertise in polymer and olefin synthesis. He is  particularly interested in activating small molecules such as hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide to find new routes for chemical syntheses and this interest linked him to this co-research project between industry and academia.

A unique project within SPIRIT ecosystem

This project, named “Direct and reversible CO2 capture from air using superbases”, is truly one of a kind. It explores how carbon dioxide can be reacted with strong organic bases and seeks to find innovative methods for carbon capture.

At the heart of this project lies a convergence of societal and scientific interests. Society, including industry, is committed to reducing carbon emissions, and capturing carbon dioxide from any source is in everyone’s best interest. While there are existing commercial methods for carbon capture, they may not be as energy efficient as required. The project aims to discover better techniques for carbon capture, which is crucial for industries striving to become carbon-neutral or even negative. Capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air, while desirable from a societal perspective, presents significant challenges compared to capturing it from concentrated sources.

The role of superbases

Superbases have shown promise in addressing this challenge. Both experimental and theoretical models suggest their potential effectiveness in this context. From a techno-economical point of view, it appears feasible and promising, particularly when compared to current technologies.

Hypothesis testing

The goal of the two-year project is to demonstrate the feasibility of the hypothesis according to which superbases based on amidine and guanidine appear to be potential molecular structures for direct and reversible CO2 capture from air. The project aims to assess the possible scalability, and potentially discover new and improved methods. Professor Repo hopes that the project will reveal ways to elevate the technical level and explore various applications. One such application could involve using captured carbon dioxide as a raw material for chemicals suitable for polymer manufacturing.

The overarching objective is to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Extensive groundwork has already been laid concerning small molecule interactions, particularly the interaction between superbases and carbon dioxide. This project aims to answer pressing questions in this field. Additionally, the academic interest lies in understanding better the relationship between super base structure and reactivity, in particular with CO2.

Potential impact is two-fold

According to professor Repo, this project could have a two-fold impact: it could contribute to carbon-negative, renewable carbon dioxide sources and result in a techno-economic breakthrough that makes the commercial use of captured carbon dioxide feasible in the chemical industry. Furthermore, it would enable the chemical industry to detach itself from fossil and even bio-based sources, contributing to biodiversity preservation.

Asset Transformation Manager Mikko Rönkä from Borealis says: “Competitive and sustainable feedstock is key to successful chemicals production. Novel CO2 capture together with green hydrogen opens endless possibilities for chemicals industry.”

Key collaborators

The project brings together four leading companies (Veturi) funded by Business Finland: Borealis, Neste, Wärtsilä and Valmet, along with Vantaan Energia and Liuotin Oy that has knowhow on how to modify and produce superbases in larger quantities. Aalto University, VTT and University of Helsinki will bring their key research expertise and contributions to this co-research project. Each entity plays a unique role, from chemical management to process management, to the synthesis and evaluation of solid superbases.

University of Helsinki takes care of the chemistry part, while Aalto University focuses on process design to prepare for techno-economic feasibility. VTT, on the other hand, manufactures superbase solid materials and evaluates them, including potential larger-scale reactions. The project officially started on April 1, 2023, and is scheduled to run for two years. While it addresses immediate research goals, commercial potential will be also evaluated.

In closing, Professor Timo Repo expresses his excitement about this project’s potential for future projects in exploring carbon capture. With a blend of academic curiosity and industry collaboration, this project aims to revolutionise the way we approach carbon dioxide capture and its usage.

Kenneth Widell, Senior Project Manager, Zero Emission Marine Veturi programme at Wärtsilä concludes: “This opportunity to significantly reduce energy consumption is a potential game changer in Carbon Capture & Utilisation.”

Project in a nutshell:

  • Research teams (leader): University of Helsinki (Timo Repo), Aalto University (Ville Alopaeus), VTT (Jere Elfving)
  • Industrial collaborators: Borealis, Neste, Liuotin Oy, Valmet, Vantaan Energia, Wärtsilä
  • Time span: 4/2023 – 3/2025


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