Sunday, November 2, 2014

Plastic made from air and methane

Today, most plastics are made exclusively from oil or other fossil fuel derivatives. In fact, around 4 percent of the world’s oil production is used as feedstock to make plastics, with a similar amount consumed as energy in the process.

Offering a potential solution is a company called NewLight Technologies which has produced a carbon negative plastic called AirCarbon. Instead of using oil, the input material is the methane emitted by sewage treatment plants, landfills, power plants, and other industrial sites. This process results in a useful product but also prevents methane from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

According to NewLight, AirCarbon is the performance equivalent of a range of plastics that includes polypropylene, polyethylene, and polystyrene. AirCarbon also lends itself to various manufacturing processes including extrusion, blown film, fibre spinning, and injection molding.

The computer manufacturer, Dell, has started to use AirCarbon for a pilot project to manufacture protective bags out of this oil-free plastic. Meanwhile, US telecommunications firm Sprint announced that it will launch an iPhone case based on the revolutionary plastic.

Newlight uses a biocatalyst to process the gases in a reactor, where the carbon is pulled out and rearranged into plastic polymers that can be used to make bags or other materials. The catalysts used with AirCarbon are 10 times more efficient than other solutions, making it an economic choice that is also carbon-negative (meaning it stores more carbon in the plastic than it generates during production). The process is independently verified to be carbon negative on a net basis by NSF Sustainability and Trucost.

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