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Fuel Cells

Computational Model of the Co-Electrolysis of Carbon Dioxide and Water to Make Syngas

Company Name: Opus 12
Program Office: Fuel Cells
Location: Berkeley, CA
Email: Kendra Kuhl, CTO;
Award Amount: $200,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Each year, U.S. industries emit an estimated 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a waste gas, where it goes on to trap heat and contribute to global climate change. Finding new ways to utilize carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere can create new markets that also reduce emissions.

Opus 12 has developed a high-efficiency, scalable reactor that can convert waste carbon dioxide into valuable liquid fuels and chemicals, notably syngas, a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen that can be used to make diesel fuel and methanol. Such systems can integrate into existing sources of industrial carbon emissions, including oil refineries and fossil fuel power plants. They can also run on renewable electricity, further reducing carbon dioxide waste associated with new fuels.


Opus 12 has developed a novel membrane electrode assembly that converts a proton exchange membrane water electrolyzer into an electrolyzer for water and carbon dioxide. Such state-of-the-art electrolyzers are already used commercially for converting water into hydrogen gas. Modification of the polymer electrolyte on the cathode side of the membrane electrode assembly changes the environment around the catalyst to favor the production of syngas.

Integration of this new technology into existing reactors can provide a pathway for accelerating its adoption. However, because this is a new type of system, it has never been modeled in a way that would allow scientists to develop a deeper theoretical understanding of how it works. The company will partner with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to develop in-depth computer models of the device, which could allow researchers to optimize cell properties for various operating conditions and improve the system.


Companies often have little or no way of extracting value from avoiding carbon dioxide emissions. Creating new processes for converting waste carbon dioxide into useful products can let operators earn revenue while reducing emissions.

A truck running on diesel from renewable syngas would offset three pounds of carbon dioxide per liter of fuel burned relative to conventional diesel. Overall, nearly one-third of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided through the production of fuels from carbon dioxide synthesized using renewable electricity.

Developing new domestic fuel sources makes the United States — and consumers — less vulnerable to oil price spikes. Diverse fuel supplies also reduce risks for market disruptions associated with pipeline and port shutdowns.

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