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New research center will find solutions to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and convert it into valuable raw materials

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded €84.7 million for establishing the world’s first interdisciplinary research center aimed at developing knowledge and technology that can be used to capture and recycle carbon dioxide (CO2). The Center will be based at Aarhus University in Denmark and will collaborate with industry and authorities to identify new solutions to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

CO2 in the atmosphere is one of the main causes of man-made climate change. Seriously curbing the rise in global temperature requires more than reducing emissions of CO2. We must also extract CO2 from the atmosphere and recycle it in products that are currently based on carbon extracted from fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

A new research center brings together international researchers across disciplines and sectors in pursuing one common goal: finding solutions enabling CO2 to be captured, processed and recycled from the atmosphere and factories and used as raw materials in new products.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is awarding a grant of DKK 630 million (€84.7 million) for establishing this center called The Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center. The Center will be based at Aarhus University in Denmark and also comprises six satellite institutions in the United States, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. The Center will also collaborate with a wide range of industry partners and other international universities.

No research field can solve this challenge alone
The Center will create an interdisciplinary platform that combines various scientific fields such as chemistry, the life sciences and systems analysis. This research will pave the way for scalable technologies that can efficiently capture and recycle CO2. Currently, no research center in Denmark or internationally operates in this way towards solving the CO2 problem. The Center will therefore be an absolute frontrunner in combatting rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

“The Center will bring together leading researchers across disciplines in pursuit of a common goal of finding methods that can reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The fundamental research at the Center will be inspired by extensive interaction with relevant industry partners. This will enable us to rapidly implement new technologies for the benefit of society,” says Alfred M. Spormann, who has been appointed the Director of the Center and is currently a professor at Stanford University in the United States.

CO2 replacing oil, gas and coal
One example of a solution the Center will investigate is producing precursors for plastic from water, CO2 and electrons created by processing the captured CO2 with bacteria and electrochemistry. This solution will provide an opportunity to replace fossil feedstocks such as oil and coal in producing plastic.

Another example of a technology the Center will study is developing a facility that uses microorganisms to convert CO2 into fuel. In this case, CO2 could also replace the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

The establishment of the Center will enable these developments to be accelerated so that technological solutions that currently look like scenarios from the distant future can become reality within a few years.

“The Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center sets out to become a powerhouse in our struggle against the global climate crisis. We need to act quickly and develop solutions that can help not only to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere but also convert the harmful CO2 into valuable raw materials that can replace oil and coal, thereby creating negative CO2 emissions,” says Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

About The Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center
The Novo Nordisk Foundation CO2 Research Center will be interdisciplinary, with a mission to mitigate climate change by exploring and developing innovative technologies that can be used to capture, store and recycle CO2. The Center will also collaborate with industry and relevant decision-makers to ensure that the solutions developed are scalable and implementable, also in Denmark.

The Center’s research encompasses four themes:

  1. CO2 capture
  2. Chemical conversion of CO2 for recycling
  3. Biobased conversion of CO2 for recycling
  4. Systems analysis

The scientific basis underpinning the four themes will support the Center’s mission to explore and develop innovative technologies that can be used to capture, store and recycle CO2. The first three themes focus on developing the actual methods and technologies for capturing and recycling CO2, and the fourth theme ensures that the Center’s research and technological development are linked to society’s needs and provide insights that can inspire in drafting legislation and other relevant framework.

Initially, the Center will focus on solutions for capturing CO2 from point sources such as factories and power plants. To avoid perpetuating the emission of additional CO2 through fossil fuels, the Center will focus on capturing CO2 from point sources powered by renewable energy. In the longer term, the Center will also strive to develop methods for capturing and processing CO2 directly from the atmosphere. This is a greater challenge for researchers, since the methods in this field are not as well developed.

The Center will be based at Aarhus University with six satellite institutions: University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark, Stanford University, University of Tromsø, University of Tübingen and Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. In addition, the Center will collaborate with several industry partners and other universities in Denmark and elsewhere.

The Foundation has awarded the Center a grant totalling DKK 630 million (€84.7 million) over 7 years. The Center will start in autumn 2021 and is expected to be operational in Aarhus from January 2022.

Further information

Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, Novo Nordisk Foundation, +45 3067 4805, [email protected]

Rasmus Rørbæk, Press Coordinator, Aarhus University, +45 2037 4215, [email protected]