What Should We Make with CO2 and How Can We Make It?

In a world struggling to limit global temperature increases to below 2°C, we see a host of emerging technologies aiming to recycle CO2. They range from those nearing commercialization, such as electrocatalytic reduction, to technologies being explored in the lab environment, such as photocatalytic, CO2 polymerization, and biohybrids, to those only now being imagined, such as molecular machine technologies. With a multitude of available pathways for CO2 recycling, we ask ourselves a question—what should we make with CO2 that is both economically viable and helpful for the environment and how should we make it?

In this forward-looking Perspective, we discuss the current state of technology and the economics of electrocatalytic transformation of CO2 into various chemical fuels. Our analysis finds that short-chain simple building-block molecules currently present the most economically compelling targets. Making an optimistic prediction of technology advancement in the future, we propose the gradual rise of photocatalytic, CO2 polymerization, biohybrid, and molecular machine technologies to augment and enhance already practical electrocatalytic CO2 conversion methods.

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