Rounding up CO2: a circular economy 

circular economy innovation oil sands

What if instead of disposing of goods, we could bring them back to their base components and then turn them into other products? That’s the question that CERT Systems, a team of finalists in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition, has been tackling. The team is able to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into valuable chemicals that can be used in countless products, such as plastics, textiles and cosmetics. 

CERT started out as a research group at the University of Toronto, where it was experimenting with different ways to convert CO2 at a rather small scale. At the time, the team believed it was going to be decades before any of their CO2 utilization work would grow into full-scale technology. Fast forward five years and CERT has been able to scale up its technology by over a thousand times, clearly proving it to be efficient and viable.  

CERT’s technology uses CO2 and water as inputs, then uses electricity to break those molecules apart and rebuild them into different chemical feedstocks such as ethylene – the precursor for many consumer products such as plastics. The technology has the potential to enable a fully circular economy, where discarded goods and materials can be broken down to their base components, which can then be used to create other goods. 

Traditionally, ethylene is created under high temperature and high pressure, which yields a lot of CO2 emissions. CERT creates ethylene at room temperature while consuming CO2 instead of emitting it. For every tonne of ethylene produced using CERT’s technology, three tonnes of CO2 are captured and utilized.   “We’re basically creating negative-carbon building blocks for different industries,” explains Alex Ip, Co-founder of CERT. 

The team had been testing their technology at the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC), a world class carbon capture and utilization facility. “[The ACCTC] is like a science playground for us to put our giant toys and test our technologies. We really appreciate how the centre was able to get all of the equipment and setup necessary for us to run our system on site in time for the competition,” Alex notes. 

The ACCTC and the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition are two of the many initiatives that COSIA and its members support as part of a game-changing effort to improve the sustainability of the Canadian oil and gas industry. Together, COSIA members have contributed 1,076 technologies that are leading the oil sands industry towards a clean energy future. 

From experimenting in a university research lab to testing their system at a world-class facility, CERT is transforming the future with big ideas, cutting-edge technology and multidisciplinary collaboration.  

Interested in learning more about the other finalists of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE? Stay tuned—we’re profiling all the finalists in the natural gas track of the competition over the next month! 

The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is a global initiative operated by the XPRIZE Foundation, designed to accelerate new technologies by converting CO2 emissions from industrial facilities for electricity generation and oil and gas production into valuable and usable products. COSIA is proud to support the Carbon XPRIZE, among other potentially game-changing initiatives, as it enables the development of environmental solutions and technology. 

Trying to find other team profiles? Worry not, we have them right here for you:
•    Transforming the future, one drink at a time 
•    Building Tomorrow with Today’s CO2

Or, sit back and take a grand tour of the initiative!

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More stories on carbon capture and conversion: 
•    Carbon capture sector taking off
•    Near net zero emissions: what will it take?

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