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Companies test turning captured CO2 into one of the world’s most plentiful plastics

Polypropylene plastic is everywhere. It’s in textiles, it’s in cars and trucks, it’s in furniture, and it’s used in medical devices like syringes and IV bags.

Image Credit: Flickr/PICNIC Network

As the world looks to remove fossil fuels and their chemical byproducts from industry, one big target is the plastic products that are made from petroleum.

That’s why the partnership between one of the most mature companies working in the capture and utilization of carbon dioxide, LanzaTech, and the very early stage startup Twelve, is so interesting.

The two companies both look to transform carbon dioxide emissions (a key contributor to global climate change) into products that were traditionally made from oil and natural gas. By using existing emissions, the companies hope to reduce the amount of new greenhouse gas-causing molecules getting pumped into the atmosphere.

Both companies replace petrochemicals, LanzaTech uses living organisms that feed on CO2 and then converts those organisms to produce ethanol and other materials.

“By harnessing biology, we can leverage the power of nature to solve a very modern problem. The overabundance of CO2 in our atmosphere has pushed our planet into a state of emergency,” said LanzaTech chief executive, Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, in a statement. “We need all carbon transformation solutions to turn this liability into an opportunity, keeping fossil resources in the ground, and our climate safe for everyone.”

Twelve, by comparison, uses chemistry and material science to create a novel membrane technology that can convert CO2 into useful materials.

By collaborating, the companies will work to combine the bio-based innovations from LanzaTech with Twelve’s chemical processes.

“Polypropylene is a key material for essential medical supplies and for many products we rely on in our daily lives. Today, 100 percent of new polypropylene in use worldwide is made from petrochemicals,” said Twelve Chief Science Officer and co-founder, Dr. Etosha Cave. “We now have a way to produce this critical material from CO2 and water instead of from fossil fuels, with no tradeoffs in quality, efficacy or performance. Replacing all of the world’s fossil polypropylene production with CO2Made polypropylene would reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 700 million tons per year or more,”

The terms of the partnership aren’t being disclosed, but the initiative is funded through a small $200,000 grant from Impact Squared, a partnership between the British banking giant Barclays and Unreasonable, an organization linking startups and corporate initiatives.


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