CO2 to durable thermoplastics – neat
My grandma would use a durable plastic container for a very long time – so long that all her plastic containers outlived her presence at home. And without ever having come across the term decarbonization (or carbon for that matter, bless her simple soul), she had “sequestered” carbon in a rather neat way.
Converting CO2 to a range of chemicals, hydrocarbon fuels and polymers is a process for which chemical engineers have known the pathways for a while. There was simply no business case to try them out – until now.
Converting CO2 to fuels sounds great, except that the CO2 gets released back into the atmosphere when you burn the fuel. So, while this pathway is better than burning oil dug up from under the ground, it is not really sequestering CO2.
How about making CO2 into plastics? That provides better sequestration than does fuel conversions as it takes a long time for the plastic to degrade, but if the plastic happens to be flimsy throwaway variety like LDPE, it creates other challenges such as plastic pollution.
OK people, how about converting it into durable plastics? Hey, that sounds much better – not only am I sequestering CO2, but because of the ease of recycling (especially if it is thermoplastics), I’m probably sequestering it for a very long time, and without creating any much pollution along the way.
And now for the zinger: What if I take CO2 from direct air capture or from the carbon in biomass instead of from CO2 emissions (say, from power plants) and convert this into durable thermoplastics? Voila, you have created a sustainable negative emissions system. You have essentially taken some CO2 already existing in the atmosphere and locked it in for a long time – a very long time if you are like my grandma.
Of the two, making durable plastics from biomass (instead of from CO2 capture) sounds neater to me – nature has already provided a great helping hand, in this route. Companies such as Made of Air ( https://www.madeofair.com/ ) are in fact using the biomass to durable thermoplastics route.