Polymers - Photo credit, feiern 1 & Free Images - Pixabay
CCUS and the Paris Agreement – Week 32 Polymers: creating plastic out of thin air.
Welcome to the thirty-second edition of my weekly blog where I take a closer look at the role that Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) research and technologies are playing in the drive by countries and organisations towards meeting Paris Agreement targets.
This week I take a look at how advances in carbon capture and utilization technologies are being exploited to convert carbon into polymers. I will also feature companies such as Newlight Technologies and Opus 12, NRG COSIA Xprize semi-finalists, and how they are utilizing captured carbon in the polymers industry.
Before we look at how carbon is converted into polymers we must first define what a polymer is. Polymer comes from the Greek language and literally means ‘many parts’. A polymer is a large molecule made up of many repeated sub-units. Polymers can be organic (biological) or synthetic (plastics) and are created by the banding together of smaller molecules called monomers into a chain.
For the purpose of this article, we will consider synthetic polymers, more common everyday examples of synthetic polymers include PVC, polystyrene, polyester, and nylon.
Converting Carbon into Polymers
Using a zinc-based catalyst, CO2 can be converted in polycarbonates. Examples of polycarbonates include frosted plastic sheets that you can purchase at a hardware store and 500ml plastic bottles. Polycarbonates are thermoplastics which means they can be recycled. According to Pembina Institute research, benefits of this conversion process include the direct use of flue gas, its potential for scale and the diverse range of products that can be made.
Newlight Technologies are a carbon capture technology company based out of California. They have come up with a way of converting methane and CO2 into plastic without the requirement of oil in their manufacturing process. They achieve this by extracting CO2 from GhG and combining it with oxygen to create a polymer molecule called AirCarbon. AirCarbon is converted into a plastic pellet and from there a strong film is created that can be used for packaging and other uses. Newlight say their product is cost competitive when compared with oil-based plastics and equal in quality.
Just like Newlight, Opus 12 substitutes fossil fuels with recycled CO2 to create a carbon negative plastic. Ethylene is used to make plastic and the traditional process results in the emittance of 2 tons of CO2 per ton of product made. What is unique about Opus 12’s process is it uses 3 tons of CO2 to make a ton of plastic and also eliminates the emittance of 2 tons of CO2, compared with the standard process. Opus 12 is also developing their CO2 to ethylene process for NASA.
Converting CO2 into polymers offers a wide range of exciting opportunities for CleanTech companies. Innovative companies like Newlight Technologies and Opus 12 have proven that the conversion of CO2 into polymers is cost effective without sacrificing quality, and a carbon generating process can be turned into a revenue-generating carbon negative one.
Next week’s blog will profile New Zealand and their efforts to meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets.
If you liked this article you might enjoy reading some recent articles in the series:
Week 31 France: the electricity generation dilemma, retrofits and politics
Week 30 Malta: the Italian interconnector job.
Week 29 Liquid Fuels: converting waste into energy.