Formic acid manufacture: carbon dioxide utilization alternatives
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Carbon dioxide (CO2) utilization alternatives for manufacturing formic acid (FA) such as electrochemical reduction (ER) or homogeneous catalysis of CO2 and H2 could be efficient options for developing more environmentally-friendly production alternatives to FA fossil-dependant production. However, these alternatives are currently found at different technological readiness levels (TRLs), and some remaining technical challenges need to be overcome to achieve at least carbon-even FA compared to the commercial process, especially ER of CO2, which is still farther from its industrial application. The main technical limitations inherited by FA production by ER are the low FA concentration achieved and the high overpotentials required, which involve high consumptions of energy (ER cell) and steam (distillation). In this study, a comparison in terms of carbon footprints (CF) using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool was done to evaluate the potential technological challenges assuring the environmental competitiveness of the FA production by ER of CO2. The CF of the FA conventional production were used as a benchmark, as well as the CF of a simulated plant based on homogeneous catalysts of CO2 and H2 (found closer to be commercial). Renewable energy utilization as PV solar for the reaction is essential to achieve a carbon-even product; however, the CF benefits are still negligible due to the enormous contribution of the steam produced by natural gas (purification stage). Some ER reactor configurations, plus a recirculation mode, could achieve an even CF versus commercial process. It was demonstrated that the ER alternatives could lead to lower natural resources consumption (mainly, natural gas and heavy fuel oil) compared to the commercial process, which is a noticeable advantage in environmental sustainability terms.