The hot new material to make plastics is…waste carbon dioxide.
USA Today highlighted the idea in an article published Dec. 30 headlined “Plastic made from pollution hits U.S. market”. According to the article, two college friends launched a project to make plastic from waste methane gas, such as is commonly found on farms or in landfills. They say they developed a bio-catalyst (which polymerizes the carbon) that is ten times more effective than what had been the state of the art.
They formed a company called Newlight Technologies (Irvine, Calif.), which is now making plastic. CEO Mark Herrema swears on a farmer’s bible that the plastic removes more carbon than it emits. The plastic (a PHA) is said to have properties similar to polypropylene and is being studied for use in cellphone cases, chairs, and food containers.
The presence of Jim Lunt on the staff as VP of sales gives the outfit credibility. Lunt was the first head of product development of NatureWorks, a major bioplastics producer.
The company added 100,000 pounds of production capacity in 2012. That’s pretty small potatoes, but bears watching.
More impressive is the commitment of German chemicals’ giant Bayer to the concept.
In what it calls the “Dream Production research initiative” Bayer says that it has proven the concept of incorporating carbon dixode on an industrial scale. The carbon dioxide used by Bayer in the project comes from a power plant near Cologne, Germany, operated by energy company RWE. There it is removed from the flue gas and liquefied for transportation.
In a pilot plant in nearby Leverkusen, Bayer MaterialScience has been using the carbon dioxide since early 2011 to manufacture samples of polyols used to make polyurethane foam. Bayer reports that the test foams are just as good as those produced with petroleum.
The key for Bayer was also finding the right catalyst.
Bayer plans to start industrial production next year. The first end product to be launched will be mattresses made from carbon dioxide-based flexible foam.