The present report assesses the technological, economic and environmental performances for producing methanol and formic acid from carbon dioxide. Methanol and formic acid are well known chemicals that can be used in the future transport sector and as hydrogen carriers. This study evaluates the potential of methanol and formic acid synthesis from captured CO2 on (i) the net reduction of CO2 emissions and (ii) their economic competitiveness, in comparison with the benchmark conventional synthesis processes using fossil fuels as raw materials. We use a process system engineering approach to calculate the technological, economic and environmental key performance indicators. The boundaries of the study are set gate-to-gate the carbon dioxide utilisation (CDU) plant: this includes hydrogen production via an electrolyser, CO2 purification, CO2 compression and the CDU plant itself. The technologies are represented at the commercial scale of the existing fossil fuel plants. Through a financial analysis, the net present value for each one of the plants is used to evaluate the price of CO2 as raw material or the price of methanol and formic acid as products that would be needed to make the CO2-based processes financially attractive. In our market analysis (by year 2030), we evaluate the possible penetration ways of methanol and formic acid, thus accepting a growing demand of both products.
Overall, depending on the specific conditions of each case: source of feedstock CO2, source of H2 and/or source of electricity, amount of electricity needed and price of electricity, price of the product; the CDU plant may be directly profitable and contribute at different levels to decrease CO2 emissions. The capacity of the CDU plant depends on the available renewable electricity that is used to power it, rather than on the demand of the product. Under specific conditions, the business model becomes feasible.