A California startup received patents last year to produce plastics from methane gas produced by animals and from industrial waste, specifically volatile organic compounds. Armed with seven awarded patents, Newlight Technologies (Cosa Mesta, Calif.) is building production capacity with the claim that its technology can make useful plastics at lower cost than plastics made from fossil fuels.
The company describes its approach this way on its Web site:”Inspired by carbon-capturing processes found in nature, Newlight has developed, patented, and commercialized a thermoplastic manufacturing technology that extracts carbon and oxygen molecules from air containing greenhouse gas and re-arranges those molecules into long-chain thermoplastic polymers that can out-compete oil-based commodity plastics on price, performance, and sustainability.”
VOCs are fed into a reactor with microorganisms that synthesize the methane enzyme, a microorganism growth medium, and microorganisms that convert the brew into a bioplastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA).
A major commercial effort (Telles) to produce PHA from corn sugars ended in failure a year ago because of high costs. Waste methane figures to be a cheaper feedstock (and with no food burden) if the technology can be proven on large scale. It seems that every company with skin in the PHA game claims its bugs are better.
Newlight is calling its PHA “Airflex” and says it is available in grades that can replace polypropylene (homopolymer, glass-filled, and impact co-polymer), polyethylene (HD, LD, and LLD), ABS, high impact polystyrene, PMMA, and TPU. Airflex resins can be used in extrusion, blown film, cast film, thermoforming, fiber spinning, and injection molding applications, according to the company.