Optimization of Carbon-Neutral Production of Methanol Via Direct Air Carbon Capture; Is Easing the Labels on Products Ethical if it Helps Sell Waste-Originated Products for the Purpose of Preserving the Planet’s Resources

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0009-0001-3389-3840
Hoessle, Nicholas, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Anderson, Eric, EN-Chem Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

While my technical thesis and STS research thesis have quite different topics, both revolve around climate change and the preservation and cleaning of the planets resources. In the capstone project, the Carbon Capture and Conversion group decided to design a process that would capture waste CO2 from the atmosphere and synthesize methanol from it. On the front end, the process utilized direct air capture to take in the CO2, followed by a process to purify the CO2 before sending it downstream. The downstream portion utilized a reverse water-gas shift reaction followed by hydrogenation to synthesize methanol, before running the stream through a distillation column to purify the final methanol product. Carbon capture is still a relatively new procedure, and the majority of this project will be a continuation of the 2022 Carbon Capture and Conversion capstone group, as well as based on research from Carbon Engineering, a leader in the carbon capture field. The goal of the process is to capture 0.98 Mt of CO2 and convert this captured CO2 into methanol at 99% purity and a quantity of 0.62 Mt/year. The system is designed around a production schedule of 6000 hours per year, and is shown to need work in order to become economically viable.

In my STS research paper, I focus on the ethics behind the labeling of products, and if removing origin labels from products that originate from a waste source could be deemed ethical if it helps conserve the planets resources. The main case study utilized for this research is on potable reuse, or the process of taking wastewater and through an intense chemical process, purifying it to a level that would be safe to drink. This paper will then use the framework of social construction of technology (SCOT) paired with philosophical frameworks to analyze whether removing the label would be an ethical route to pursue. I use these frameworks to determine that while there would be some environmental benefits to removing the labels, the harm that could come from this action poses too great of a threat, and a focus on combating the stigma revolving around waste-based resources would be a better route to pursue. While the economic benefits may seem to have no downside, the removal of some labels could enable larger companies to try and take advantage of the situation, and pose a threat to consumers.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
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