Greenhouse gases, as we all know, cause climate change. We create CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and so on as we burn fuels in our cars, heat our homes, and generally go about our business – it’s a waste product of modern civilization. They have no value, so there’s no interest in capturing greenhouse gases. We’re only talking about them because we have to.
But what if they did have a value? What if you could do something useful with them? That would be a gamechanger – we’d want to conserve them. There would be an incentive for capturing them.
So far the nearest thing we have to this is Carbon Capture and Storage, where greenhouse gases are captured from a coal power station or similar large source and then stored underground. The technology has been slow to develop because there’s no market for it. There’s no penalty to emitting CO2, or at least not until very recently, and there’s no value to the captured emissions. Why would you bother? Where it has been done commercially, it’s in places where they want CO2 to pump underground to force more oil to the surface – a profoundly unhelpful idea.
One company has recently come up with something more interesting though. NewLight Technologies have worked out a way to make plastic out of greenhouse gases. After ten years of research, they have developed a biocatalyst that can make a polymer out of methane, oxygen and water. Methane is captured from cattle farms or landfill sites, and locked away in a material they are calling AirCarbon.
Making plastics out of AirCarbon saves making them out of oil, which means we can leave more of it in the ground. But since it removes greenhouse gases from the air and sequesters them in useful products, AirCarbon is carbon negative.
All very clever, especially since AirCarbon is actually cheaper than oil-based plastics and just as versatile. And it’s nice to read about entrepreneurs setting out on a visionary idea specifically motivated by climate change.
The idea is still relatively new, but proven and well on its way. NewLight has attracted major funding and production is ramping up fast, so you may well encounter greenhouse gas plastics sooner than you think.