Recycling Carbon Dioxide to Make Plastics | Department of Energy

We're jumping ahead of the narrative to herein bring you a recent news release - - concerning the fact that Carbon Dioxide is a valuable raw material resource which can be chemically consumed and very productively utilized in the synthesis of high-performance plastics - - from our United States Department of Energy.

The USDOE's announcement results from work about which we began to report to you four years ago.

As in:

West Virginia Coal Association | CO2 to Plastics | Research & Development; concerning the announcement: "A Cornell University research group has made a sweet and environmentally beneficial discovery -- how to make plastics from citrus fruits, such as oranges, and carbon dioxide. In a paper published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (Sept. 2004), Geoffrey Coates, a Cornell professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and his graduate students Chris Byrne and Scott Allen describe a way to make polymers using limonene oxide and carbon dioxide, with the help of a novel "helper molecule" -- a catalyst developed in the researchers' laboratory.Limonene is a carbon-based compound produced in more than 300 plant species. In oranges it makes up about 95 percent of the oil in the peel. In industry, Coates explains, the orange peel oil is extracted for various uses, such as giving household cleaners their citrus scent. The oil can be oxidized to create limonene oxide. This is the reactive compound that Coates and his collaborators used as a building block. The other building block they used was carbon dioxide (CO2) ... . By using their catalyst to combine the limonene oxide and CO2, the Coates group produced a novel polymer, called polylimonene carbonate, that has many of the characteristics of polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic currently used to make many disposable plastic products"; and:
West Virginia Coal Association | More CO2 to Plastics - Cornell University | Research & Development; concerning the Cornell University news article: "'Polymers from Renewable Resources'; Carbon Dioxide is an ideal synthetic feedstock since it is abundant, inexpensive, nontoxic, and nonflammable. ... There has been considerable recent interest in the development of catalysts for the alternating copolymerization of carbon dioxide with epoxides to produce aliphatic polycarbonates. ... More recently, we have discovered the first cobalt catalysts for CO2 epoxide polymerization. These catalysts exhibit unprecedented activities";

we saw that a team of scientists, led by Geoffrey Coates, but remember the other names as well, at Cornell University, up in New York, was developing processes wherein Carbon Dioxide could be reacted with a class of compounds known as "epoxides" - - some of which, like "limonene", are produced through botanical photosynthesis and are themselves already composed, in part, of naturally-recycled CO2 - - with the end result being a type of plastic known as "polycarbonates", which, we assure you, and as we will document as we go along in future reports, can be high-performance polymers with broad, high-volume applications throughout all of industry.

There is one important fact to keep in mind as we do go along:

The direct use of Carbon Dioxide coupled with the indirect use, through photosynthesized compounds like "limonene", of Carbon Dioxide in the synthesis of polycarbonates, generally speaking, represents a direct displacement and replacement of petroleum-derived raw materials.

The above said, following are excerpts from the initial link in this dispatch to the recent United States Government official announcement of:

"Recycling Carbon Dioxide to Make Plastics

May 20, 2013

Novomer’s thermoplastic pellets incorporate waste CO2 into a variety of consumer products.

(As we will further document in the future, and as seen in:

Carbon-Dioxide Plastic Gets Funding | MIT Technology Review; "Affordable, biodegradable plastics made from carbon dioxide are moving closer to market. Novomer, based in Ithaca, NY, which is developing the plastics, has received $6.6 million in venture-capital funding. Novomer, which was founded in 2004, plans to use the investment to scale up its manufacturing capacity. The Cornell University spinoff’s technology centers on a catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into a polymer that could be used to make everyday items such as packaging, cups, and forks. The plastic, which was originally created by Cornell chemist Geoffrey Coates, is also safe and strong enough to be used in medical implants and devices.The plastic should be relatively inexpensive since carbon dioxide is a cheap feedstock, says Coates. The plastic is being made on a pilot scale, and Novomer declines to give details of its commercial-scale manufacturing plans. Novomer president Charles Hamilton says that, while it is hard to predict the product’s final cost, it should be cost competitive with traditional petroleum-based plastics";

the company "Novomer" is a commercial "spinoff" originating in, and with ties to, Cornell University.)

Why is this important?

By using CO2 that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere, the process has the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously reducing petroleum consumption and producing useful products for American consumers.

The world’s first successful large-scale production of a polypropylene carbonate (PPC) polymer using waste carbon dioxide (CO2) as a key raw material has resulted from a projected funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy.

(The above might be something of a self-congratulatory exaggeration. As seen in our report of:

West Virginia Coal Association | Bayer Is Converting Coal Power Plant CO2 Into Plastics | Research & Development; concerning: "Bayer Material Science CO2-to-Plastics Pilot Plant, Germany; In February 2011, Bayer MaterialScience started a new pilot plant (in   the) North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany for producing plastics from   carbon dioxide (CO2). It will be used to develop   polyurethanes from the waste gas released during power generation";

our USDOE's, Novomer's and Cornell University's achievements herein, as wonderfully commendable as they might be, are likely not the "world's first successful large-scale production of ... polymer using waste carbon dioxide". The first production of, specifically, "polypropylene carbonate", maybe; but maybe not, generally speaking, "polymer"s.)

The PPC polymer production run, conducted by Novomer in collaboration with specialty chemical manufacturer Albemarle Corporation (Orangeburg, SC), tested scale-up of Novomer’s novel catalyst technology. Requiring only minor modifications to existing Albemarle facilities, the run produced seven tons of finished polymer, which will be used to accelerate product qualification.

(We've cited the admirable "Albemarle Corporation" previously, as, for one example, in our report of:

West Virginia Coal Association | EPA-Sponsored Fly Ash Concrete Sequesters Flue Gas Mercury | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent Application 20030206843 - Methods and Compositions to Sequester Combustion-Gas Mercury in Fly Ash and Concrete; 2003; Inventor: Sidney G. Nelson, Jr.; The United States Government may own certain rights to present invention pursuant to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Contract No. 68-D-01-075 and National Science Foundation Award No. DMI-0232735, to Sorbent Technologies Corporation. As of July 31, 2008, Sorbent Technologies Corporation was acquired by Albemarle Corp. Sorbent Technologies Corporation provides sorbents, equipment, and services for the control of mercury emissions from utility and power plant boilers. The company ... is based in Twinsburg, Ohio";

and, will have more about them and their work with Coal combustion byproducts in the future.)

The Novomer process uses a catalyst to create PPC polymers through the co-polymerization of CO2 and chemicals called epoxides. The process results in polymers containing more than 40 percent CO2 by weight.

(The above "containing more than 40 percent CO2 by weight" we think pertains only to the Carbon Dioxide which is added to the "epoxide"; and, does not take into account the CO2 that, through photosynthesis, if a natural epoxide like limonene is used, might also be consumed. The actual recycled CO2 content of the "polymers" could, thus, be a good bit more than "40 percent".)

The CO2-containing polymers can be tailored for applications with a broad range of material characteristics from solid plastics to soft, flexible foams, depending on the size of the polymer chain.

Novomer is positioning its new polymer technology to compete with conventional petroleum-based raw materials across a diverse range of applications, including flexible, rigid, and microcellular packaging foams, thermoplastics, polyurethane adhesives and sealants, and coating resins for food and beverage cans.

'We are pleased with the results of this first run and thank the U.S. Department of Energy for their support,' said Dr. Ron Valente, Novomer’s Vice President of Research. 'This campaign clearly demonstrates the robustness of our catalyst and manufacturing process, and we are confident in the ability to move to a larger scale as demand warrants.'

Conventional production of plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The Novomer process reduces the use of these fuels by replacing up to half of the mass of the petroleum-based product with CO2. Capital requirements and operational costs to produce the new polymers closely mirror conventional production costs, and the products demonstrate increased strength and environmental resistance relative to existing polymers. Incorporation into existing formulations results in packaging foams with higher tensile strength and load-bearing capacity, and adhesives and coatings with improved adhesion, cohesive strength, and “weatherabilty” properties, such as UV- and water-resistance.

Converting captured CO2 into products such as chemicals, plastics, fuels, building materials, and other commodities is an important component of the Office of Fossil Energy’s Carbon Capture and Storage program, managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

This approach could be especially valuable in reducing carbon emissions in areas of the country where geologic storage of CO2 is not practical."


The USDOE's gratuitous, almost obligatory, genuflection to "geologic storage of CO2" is insulting.

Why, in the world, would we ever consider "geologic storage of CO2" to be a "practical" alternative to reducing imports of petroleum from OPEC, and thus increasing our US national security, by using and consuming Carbon Dioxide in the synthesis of, as our United States Navy, as in our report of:

West Virginia Coal Association | US Navy May 7, 2013, CO2 to Liquid Hydrocarbon Fuels | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent 8,436,457 - Synthesis of Hydrocarbons Via Catalytic Reduction of CO2; May 7, 2013; Assignee: The United States of America, as represented by the Secretary of the Navy; Abstract: A method of: introducing hydrogen and a feed gas containing at least 50 vol % carbon dioxide into a reactor containing a Fischer-Tropsch catalyst; and heating the hydrogen and carbon dioxide to a temperature of at least about 190 C to produce hydrocarbons in the reactor";

specifies, liquid hydrocarbon fuels; or, as our United States Department of Energy herein, via the announcement made by our subject, "Recycling Carbon Dioxide to Make Plastics", specifies, "polymers" that "cut greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously reducing petroleum consumption"?

The "geologic storage of CO2" doesn't make any sense, whatsoever, unless, perhaps, to those who see the threat of it as a way to leverage, as an alternative, the passage of Cap & Trade CO2 taxes and the raising of more government revenues to fund favored social programs.

Forgive us that lapse into unwelcome political speculation. Don't let it detract from the essential message herein:

As our United States Department of Energy confirms, Carbon Dioxide, as it arises in only a small way, relative to natural sources of emission, such as the Earth's inexorable, and un-taxable, processes of planetary volcanism, from our essential use of Coal in the generation of abundant and truly affordable electric power, is a valuable raw material resource.

We can consume and profitably utilize Carbon Dioxide, as recovered from whatever handy source, in the synthesis and manufacture of "foams, thermoplastics, polyurethane adhesives and sealants".

West Virginia Coal Association - PO Box 3923 - Charleston, WV 25339 | 304-342-4153 | website developed by brickswithoutstraw