From greenhouse gases to plastics
New catalyst for recycling carbon dioxide discovered.
Imagine if we could take CO2, that most notorious of greenhouse gases, and convert it into something useful. Something like plastic, for example. The positive effects could be dramatic, both diverting CO2 from the atmosphere and reducing the need for fossil fuels to make products.
A group of researchers, led by the University of Toronto Ted Sargent group, just published results that bring this possibility a lot closer.
Using the Canadian Light Source and a new technique exclusive to the facility, they were able to pinpoint the conditions that convert CO2 to ethylene most efficiently. Ethylene, in turn, is used to make polyethylene—the most common plastic used today—whose annual global production is around 80 million tonnes.
“This experiment could not have been performed anywhere else in the world, and we are thrilled with the results” says U of T PhD student Phil De Luna, the lead researcher on this project.
Plasticknowledge.com asked PhD student Phil De Luna some extra questions:
Plasticknoweledge.com: What would you say about the scalability of this technique?
Phil De Luna: Our technology is high scalable, in fact our team is currently one of 20 semi-finalists in the Carbon XPrize. (https://carbon.xprize.org/teams/cert). We are essentially modifying well known eletrolyzer cell technologies typically used for hydrogen production and then modifying them for CO2 conversion. Within the past year we have gone from mg/hour in the lab scale to kg/day with a micropilot unit.
Plasticknowledge.com: What would you say is the timeline to develop this technique so it can be used commercially?
Phil De Luna: If we make it through the final round we have 2 years to bring it to pilot plant scale commercial. Although there are other people/companies who are already using a similar technology, but with a different carbon conversion product. Opus-12 (https://www.opus-12.com/) is making carbon monoxide. And Siemens and Evonik recently published a paper in Nature Catalysis (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41929-017-0005-1) and a press release on their pilot plant here (https://www.siemens.com/press/pool/de/pressemitteilungen/2018/corporate/PR2018010135COEN.pdf) Although there currently does not exist a company making ethylene renewably. It’s an exciting time in this field though.