Flue2Chem: initiative to make products from CO2 begins

13 March 2024


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Science sector collaboration achieves major milestone in project towards net-zero manufacture of household products.

Carbon dioxide from factory chimneys in the UK will this week start its journey towards being recycled into household detergent ingredients.

The innovation is part of a cross-sector collaboration to find an alternative raw material to virgin fossil fuel for many manufactured goods, from cosmetics to plastics. The Flue2Chem initiative will examine the potential for using valuable carbon dioxide emissions from industry as an alternative source of carbon.

5.3% of the world’s fossil fuel carbon is used to manufacture everyday materials and household products such as plastics, textiles and cleaning products.

17 organisations including global manufacturers of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), universities and innovation experts are working together in the unprecedented collaboration. In this first step, the partners will examine the industrial-level transformation of carbon dioxide emissions from paper manufacturing into surfactants, contained in products such as dishwashing and laundry products, paints.

Beena Sharma of CCUI with the carbon capture equipment for Flue2Chem. Credit: Flue2Chem
Beena Sharma of CCUI with the carbon capture equipment for Flue2Chem. Credit: Flue2Chem. Download full size image here.

The findings will inform industry and the Government about the feasibility of using non virgin fossil fuel sources for many household and consumer products. The group will assess both the technical feasibility of the new and highly-innovative processes, as well as the economic impacts for creating a new supply chain.

This week, the first carbon dioxide for the project will be captured at the Holmen Iggesund Paperboard Mill in Workington, Cumbria. The first batch of CO2 will be sent to specialist facilities at the University of Sheffield and CPI in Redcar, Teesside. There it will begin the first stage of the innovative processes to convert it into the chemical building blocks of surfactants.

Al Sanderson, Flue2Chem Project Manager, said:

‘For the last 14 months, we have been preparing for this moment. The chemical processes that will turn carbon dioxide into surfactants contained in many cleaning products have been identified and are being optimised.

‘Each step is being closely measured so that we can understand the socio-economic and environmental impact of this new way to make common chemicals used in everyday products.

‘This will support the design of potential future supply chains that could eliminate the need for virgin fossil carbon to make these product ingredients in future.’

Carbon dioxide from paper manufacturing sites in Irvine, Scotland as well as Workington will be captured using technology developed by CCU International (CCUI), a technology spin out business at the University of Sheffield. The pioneering technology was manufactured in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

Beena Sharma, CEO and Co-Founder of CCUI, said:

‘Capturing carbon dioxide and utilising it back into the industry supports a circular carbon economy and makes significant contributions to net-zero goals. This project highlights the importance of collaboration, and we look forward to deploying the technology in the coming months to a second emitter site in Scotland.’

The Flue2Chem project could form the basis for the development of carbon harvesting on a commercial scale. As well as cutting emissions from manufacturing, it could reduce the need for oil and gas extraction in future to make detergent and other consumer products.

Flue2Chem Project Manager Al Sanderson added:

‘The Flue2Chem project exemplifies the power of global collaboration in addressing environmental challenges and moving towards a sustainable future.’

Notes to editors:

About SCI: where science meets business

  1. Flue2Chem is a two-year demonstration project supported by Innovate UK. It seeks to redesign and validate a UK value chain to convert valuable carbon emissions into sustainable materials for consumer products.

  2. The project aims to support the UK’s goal to become net zero by 2050 by examining an alternative source of carbon to virgin fossil fuels for industry.

  3. The manufacture of products from petrochemicals uses the equivalent of approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide globally each year.

  4. The Flue2Chem partners include BASF, Carbon Clean, CPI - part of the UK Government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the Confederation of Paper Industries, CCU International, Croda, Holmen Iggesund, Johnson Matthey, LanzaTech, Reckitt, SCI, Tata Steel, Unilever, the University of Sheffield, the University of Surrey and UPM.

  5. The Flue2Chem partnership began in December 2022 and is expected to conclude its findings by early 2025. The project will cost an estimated £5 million, with £2.7 million of support from Innovate UK.

  6. The UK Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Industry is worth an estimated £73 billion. Source: Chemical Industries Association.

  7. The global market for non-ionic surfactants is estimated to be worth £11.5 billion per year and is estimated to grow by around 5% per year until 2030. Source: Marketsandmarkets.com.

  8. Holmen Iggesund makes premium paperboard for packaging and graphical applications. Its Workington Mill is an integrated pulp and paperboard mill which since 2013, has been fully powered by fossil-free, carbon-free bioenergy.

  9. SCI Where Science Meets Business is a unique global multidisciplinary network connecting scientists, business people, students and other key players involved in science-based innovation. SCI (formed in 1881 as the Society of Chemical Industry) promotes innovation via its international network to advance the commercial application of science into industry for the benefit of society.

  10. For further information on Flue2Chem please visit soci.org/flue2chem or contact Liane Farrer at liane.farrer@soci.org or on 02075981562.

For further information on Flue2Chem please contact:

Liane Farrer

020 7598 1562

Contact Liane Farrer