​New Technology Sequesters Carbon, Turns It Into Plastic

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it now it is the stuff of science reality. A company called Newlight Technologies has developed a process whereby air pollution is extracted and turned into plastic, making it not only sustainable but also carbon negative by removing more carbon than it makes. 

According to a story about this technology breakthrough on USA Today, company CEO Mark Herrema says the idea for the invention goes back to his student days at Princeton when he became concerned about the rise in emissions that cause global warming. At that moment he decided to do something about it. He thought all that carbon that causes the planet to warm up could become resources for materials.

The project took about 10 years to get to the stage where Newlight Technologies is today, producing several grades of plastic, such as cell phone cases, storage containers, films, etc. KI Furniture in Wisconsin is the first company is the first of its kind to use the material to make several lines of chairs.

Herrema says the technology to extract carbon from the air and transform it into a material already existed, but their breakthrough was to make it cost-effective with a more efficient bio-catalyst. They take methane-based carbon from various sources, mix it up air, and then run it into a reactor, where it is converted into a liquid. As it goes through the reactor, it gets into contact with the catalyst. From this contact carbon will be arranged into a long chain of polymers and once it is pulled out, it is melted down and turned into pellets.

The company’s grades of plastic have different carbon footprints, but a recent audit found all of them to be carbon negative, that is, they sequester more carbon in the process of making them that they produce.

Besides the sustainability and versatility of the material, Herrema says their material matches the performance of fossil fuel plastic. And perhaps even better than that, it is more price-competitive, making it a “market-driven, carbon-capture process”.

A green dream come true, for sure.

Image credit: AirCarbon