Newlight Makes Plastic Out of Thin Air Instead of Oil
Imagine if you were given one wish to do anything you could about climate change, what would you do? Resetting the atmospheric carbon concentration back to pre-industrial levels would certainly be a big help. But at the rate we are currently generating CO2, adding 2.1 ppm per year and rising, if we didn’t do something else to slow down our emissions, we would be right back where we are today in a surprisingly short amount of time.
What if we could pull CO2 out of the air and convert it into something useful, something that requires the generation of CO2 to produce today? Wouldn’t a reversal like that be helpful?
That is exactly what a company called Newlight Technologies is doing. Its patented technology extracts carbon from the air and converts it into long-chain polymers that can be used as substitutes for oil-based plastics.
Every pound of conventionally produced plastic generates 6 pounds of CO2. Using Newlight’s method not only avoids this carbon production, but it also removes an additional pound of CO2 from the atmosphere. Considering that worldwide production of plastic is currently 77 pounds for every person on the planet, and increasing by 3 percent every year, shifting to this method of production represents an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions by close to 2 billion tons annually. That’s about 4.7 percent of the current global emission level. Of course a much larger portion of emissions are generated from transportation, electricity generation and the heating of buildings and water, but this is still a significant amount.
Newlight’s carbon capture technology is inspired by nature. It extracts carbon molecules from air containing greenhouse gases and rearranges those molecules into long-chain thermoplastic polymers that can match the performance of oil-based plastics. Their products can also outperform oil-based plastics on price. The impact of this approach is comparable to bioplastics, though the net footprint should be lower due to the absence of agricultural inputs such as land, water and chemicals.
Read more from our affiliate, Triple Pundit.
Plastic polymer image via Shutterstock.