What do fertilizer, superglue, and Plexiglas all have in common, aside from being things that you can hide in your roommate’s bed when she refuses to do the dishes? (Don’t even play like it’s never crossed your mind!) Apparently, they can all be manufactured using sequestered carbon dioxide.
With the help of scientists, a handful of entrepreneurs are delving into the market of carbon dioxide recycling. It’s one with seemingly unlimited potential, because lord only knows the planet’s supply of CO2 isn’t shrinking anytime soon.
Liquid Light, a New Jersey tech startup, has developed a CO2 converter that can transform emissions into feedstock for chemical-based products. Plastics, adhesives, and a whole slew of other products can now count recycled greenhouse gases as one of their crucial ingredients. The converter operates using low-energy catalytic electrochemistry.
As reported in New Scientist:
Inside [the converter] are catalysts that can produce more than 60 carbon-based chemicals, from just CO2 and electricity. By linking many of these devices together, a chemical plant could convert CO2 into hundreds of thousands of tonnes of products in a year, says co-founder Kyle Teamey.
Helping chemical companies switch their feedstock to CO2 does more than boost their green credentials. “Almost all of their expenses are based on buying oil or natural gas or biomass,” says Teamey. So releasing it into the air is perverse. “It’s not just pollution, it’s actually losing the value of the stuff they bought in the first place.”
Liquid Light’s first market product will be ethylene glycol, which is a key ingredient in both antifreeze and the polyester used to make Rick Ross’ favorite tracksuit. The company estimates that it could repurpose 31 million tonnes of CO2 by making ethylene glycol.
It turns out that there’s a bunch of ways to recycle CO2, and a wily startup to match each method. California’s Newlight Technologies, for example, uses a catalyst to transform methane and carbon dioxide into AirCarbon, a plastic that can be used to make any variety of products. In Australia, Mineral Carbonation is repurposing waste carbon dioxide for building materials by combining it with minerals such as magnesium and calcium to create carbonates.
At a TEDx event in Canberra, Mineral Carbonation founder Marcus Dawe acknowledged that the effectiveness of this technology in cutting emissions is still to be determined, and it’s by no means the ultimate solution:
Now, there are no silver bullets in storing CO2 and in dealing with our emissions. Mineral carbonation really just plays a part — it’s part of the portfolio of technologies that are to be developed, and we must prove whether they can work or not. It’s very important that we do that.
At least some entrepreneurs are now heeding the advice of every good grandma: When life gives you greenhouse gases, make antifreeze! But for the record, don’t even think about using that one in any roommate retaliation scheme — that way lies disaster, and potential for felony indictment.
Don't waste CO2, turn it into bottles and glue, New Scientist.
Could future clothes, bottles and chairs be made from carbon emissions?, The Guardian.
Get Grist in your inbox