A little over a year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared a global pandemic. At the time, there was a great deal of uncertainty about how COVID-19 would impact the energy industry. More than 12 months later, we witnessed a 20% drop in oil demand, a 5% reduction in electricity consumption, and the largest year-over-year reduction in global CO2 emissions. However, through it all, the energy transition continued to move forward at an accelerated rate.
Using our news commentary feature, we have been tracking key developments in the energy industry over the first year of the global pandemic, covering nearly 650 individual developments across more than 10 of our major topic areas. These innovation-related events range from partnerships and investments to recent R&D and policies. Each news commentary includes information about the companies involved and our take on the development.
The news trends analysis is one of the main factors shaping the Lux Energy Team's outlook for 2021 and beyond. Many of the transformational developments that occurred directly influenced the Energy Program's four key themes – Evolution of Electricity Networks, Decarbonization of Industry, The Business of the Energy Transition, Future Energy for Mobility – and shaped our 2021 predictions. In the below figure, we analyze the activity over the past 12 months within one of our main topics, CO2 emissions and abatement.
As we enter the second year of the global pandemic, we take a look back at the "Truly Disruptive" and "Very Important" developments over the past 12 months. In addition, we have selected the most read and discussed innovation-related events.
- Carbon8 commercializing CCU technology with Vicat Group. Carbon8's technology will utilize waste CO2 emissions directly from Vicat's facilities to produce lightweight aggregates for cement – essentially forming a circular economy for CO2 within the facility.
- Blue Planet secures Series C investment from Chevron. The undisclosed Series C will support Blue Planet as it scales its CO2-to-concrete technology in the U.S. The company offers CO2 capture capabilities along with its mineralization technology, which can help offset production costs for low-carbon aggregates.
- LafargeHolcim extends its partnership with Solidia Technologies until 2025. As one of the world's largest cement producers, LafargeHolcim's backing since 2013 has been a boon for Solidia Technologies, and this renewal is a further stamp of approval for the startup, despite it not yet progressing past the pilot stage.
- Evonik and Siemens progress to pilot scale for CO2-to-butanol/hexanol. The Rheticus project successfully validates the combination of CO2 electrolysis and fermentation at the lab scale after launching in 2018.
- Argonne National Laboratory develops CO2-to-ethanol electrocatalyst. Argonne National Laboratory achieved a Faradaic efficiency of 90%, which is a major improvement on existing CO2-to-ethanol electrocatalysts, whose selectivity hovers between 10% and 20% today.
- Svante raises $72 million Series D. The Series D was led by Temasek Holdings and also included investors like the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative and Chevron. Svante will use the funds to finance its next three years of operations, which includes launching its first commercial-scale unit at a cement plant in the U.S.
- Elon Musk partners with XPRIZE for $100 million CO2 capture competition. Elon Musk formalized his original announcement for the "best carbon capture technology" by partnering with XPRIZE Foundation. XPRIZE is best known for its NRG COSIA competition that brought CO2 utilization to the global limelight.
- ExxonMobil launches ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions. The Low Carbon Solutions business will invest $3 billion for more than 20 carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects globally. The focus will be on pre-combustion CO2 capture and improving storage capabilities.
- Climeworks to launch new direct air capture facility with Audi. Climeworks will launch a 4,000 MT per year commercial direct air capture (DAC) facility in Iceland in collaboration with Audi. The CO2 captured will be stored underground through a natural mineralization process.
- NRG Energy shuts down Petra Nova carbon capture project. The world's largest commercial-scale post-combustion CO2 capture facility was indefinitely shut down as the low oil prices at the time made the flagship project uneconomical for enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
- Reliance Industries aims to develop full-stack synthetic fuels technology. In the company's announcement of targeting net-zero emissions by 2035, Chairman Mukesh Ambani noted that the company is now focusing on developing synthetic fuels.
- Maersk, Ørsted, and other Danish companies embark on full-scale synthetic fuels production by 2030. A total of 1.3 GW of electrolyzer capacity is planned to come online by 2030 to produce 250,000 MT of fuels – hydrogen for buses and trucks, methanol for shipping, and jet fuel for aviation.
- First commercial flight on synthetic fuels carried out by Shell and KLM. In 2020, Shell produced 500 L of synthetic jet fuel from green hydrogen and CO2 captured from flue gases – the fuel was used in a KLM flight in January, marking the first time a synthetic fuel was used in a passenger plane.
- Port of Amsterdam, SkyNRG, and KLM launch Synkero. Synkero aims to build a commercial-scale synthetic aviation fuel plant at the Port of Amsterdam by 2027, producing 50,000 MT of fuel from CO2 and hydrogen – the fuel will then be piped directly to Schiphol Airport.
- Sunfire and Climeworks launch Norsk e-Fuel. The consortium will build a commercial synthetic fuel plant in Norway and comes months after Sunfire and Climeworks severed ties with Nordic Blue Crude, a company launched in 2017.
- Braskem partners with University of Illinois to develop CO2-to-polyethylene. Braskem will take the first step in transitioning CO2-to-polyethylene out of academic research; this is part of the company's efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050.
- Asahi Kasei improves CO2-to-isocyanate yields. As one of the two building blocks of polyurethanes, isocyanates are generally more challenging to make than polyols. The development focuses on increasing the yield of the urea-hexamethylenediamine reaction, a promising approach, as it leverages a material that already uses CO2 at scale.
- Air Protein raises $32 million Series A. The Series A was led by ADM Ventures, Barclays, and GV (previously Google Ventures). Air Protein will use the funds to accelerate the development and commercialization of its CO2-based protein for meat substitutes as well as to launch an innovation R&D lab and expand its team.
- Solar Foods raises $18 million Series A. Solar Foods brought its total funding to $22 million, with Finnish food company Fazer Group leading the round. The funding will be used to construct a commercial production facility, aimed to be operational by the end of 2022.
- REACT-FIRST consortium receives funding to scale the CO2-to-protein value chain. The U.K. government awarded $2.5 million to a project to explore CO2-to-protein tech for poultry and aquaculture feeds. REACT-FIRST is led by Deep Branch Biotechnology and includes a consortium of industry players for CO2 capture, nutrition optimization, feed production and trials, and end-user engagement.
The momentum around CO2 capture and utilization will undoubtedly continue, as the carbon neutrality goals of the world's major economies will result in a significant uptick in announcements in 2021. As the market has the potential to reach $550 billion by 2040, companies are ramping up efforts in identifying the winning technologies and target markets for CO2 utilization in the new carbon economy. CO2 capture, building materials, and synthetic fuels remain the most prominent technologies, highlighted by major project announcements in the coming decade, key partnerships being formed, and growing investments. Notably, chemicals and polymers are limited by costs and lack strong regulatory support, concentrating much of the activity in early R&D. While single-cell proteins are still in the nascent stages of development, they have the potential to produce large volumes with fewer facilities in less time and are expected to rapidly scale in 2030 and beyond.