Next Big Thing

Plastic Made From the Air Sep 24, 2015

Every year over 300 billion kilograms of plastic are produced, and another 1 trillion kilograms of carbon dioxide is release into the atmosphere during the manufacturing process.

Many companies have been founded to try and address this problem by increasing their efficiency or reducing consumption. One company has turned the process itself around and instead of making plastics that release carbon dioxide INTO the air, they decided to make plastics from carbon dioxide take OUT OF the air.

To reframe the questions Newlight Technologies CEO Mark Herrema asked, “Wouldn’t we be better off using plastic as a conveyor belt for capturing and sequestering carbon emissions instead?” Plastics are made from hydrocarbons – molecules made from hydrogen and carbon – such as oil or other fossil fuels.

During typical manufacturing processes, oil is exposed to high pressure and heat to form a polymer. The expense to extract, transport and process the oil makes it an effective, yet inefficient way of creating plastic for our phones, computers and cars. Throughout this process carbon dioxide is constantly being released into the atmosphere, changing our environment. Newlight Technologies, a California based company, has built their first commercial plant has reversed the flow of carbon and now makes plastic by pulling the necessary hydrocarbon from greenhouse gases in the air rather than from liquid oil. The plant pulls methane from a waste lagoon of a nearby dairy farm. When the methane is exposed to a special enzyme it forms a physical polymer that they have dubbed AirCarbon. Because it literally pulls the raw material to create the plastic from thin air, it costs less to produce this Eco-friendly solution than conventional oil-derived plastics.

Even though it uses air to make the plastic, it performs as well as traditional, oil based plastics in most scenarios. “High-Performance. AirCarbon™ is able to meet the performance requirements of a wide range of applications, including applications currently using fossil fuel-based polypropylene, polyethylene, ABS, polystyrene, and TPU.”

Several companies have seen the obvious environmental and financial benefits of using this new kind of plastic include Dell, who will be using plastic bags made by them to ship their computers and Sprint, who will be offering smartphone cases that are carbon-negative. “AirCarbon is a carbon-negative material on a cradle-to-grave basis, as verified by independent third-party analysis performed by Trucost in cooperation with NSF Sustainability.”

Noosphere Ventures recognizes that we only have one world to live in. Because of the innovative technologies that are both economically viable and environmentally friendly, we can be sure that it will be a place of peace and prosperity for the next generation as well.