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Making Plastic Out of the Air
Old 07-30-2014, 12:19 PM   #1
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Making Plastic Out of the Air

Saw this on CBS This Morning (where I get my daily news fix):

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Here's how it works: Carbon emissions are captured from farms, landfills, and energy facilities and are fed into a 50-foot-tall reactor at Newlight's plant. A bundle of enzymes strips out the carbon and oxygen and rearranges them into a substance they call air carbon.

Quote:
"What's exciting here is if you can capture carbon out of the air, do that at scale and do it over long periods of time, you not only get the product, but you've also reduced the amount of greenhouse gasses in the air, and that's something that companies and governments around the world pay for today."
Company unlocks secret to making plastic out of air - CBS News


I'd say this goes in the "Cool!" category
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Old 07-30-2014, 12:57 PM   #2
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Miniaturize this and combine it with 3D printing and you could produce anything/anywhere simply out of thin air.
edit: patent pending
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Old 07-30-2014, 01:01 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by zedd View Post
Miniaturize this and combine it with 3D printing and you could produce anything/anywhere simply out of thin air.
edit: patent pending
That was one of the first thoughts that came to mind also. Pair this with 3D printing.
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Old 07-30-2014, 01:18 PM   #4
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I'm just wondering what the energy budget is for this process. They're basically taking in carbon dioxide as a source of carbon and oxygen, and producing some form of plastic, which implies that they are adding hydrogen, nitrogen, and possibly other elements.

Plastics generally have much more energy bound up in their molecular structure than does carbon dioxide. That is, burning plastics to produce carbon dioxide and water vapor releases energy. It will take some similar amount of energy to convert carbon dioxide and other materials into plastics.

They mention the use of enzymes, which are sort of an organic catalyst that reduces the 'activation energy' of a reaction, but not the net energy flow. Making CO2 into plastic is still going to be an endothermic reaction. I just hope that they aren't powering their plant from a coal power plant. ;-)
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Old 07-30-2014, 01:23 PM   #5
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If they are using a coal power plant and capturing the CO2 what difference does it make. Unless you want to talk about the depletion of coal as an energy source.
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Old 07-30-2014, 01:31 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by M Paquette View Post
I'm just wondering what the energy budget is for this process. They're basically taking in carbon dioxide as a source of carbon and oxygen, and producing some form of plastic, which implies that they are adding hydrogen, nitrogen, and possibly other elements.

Plastics generally have much more energy bound up in their molecular structure than does carbon dioxide. That is, burning plastics to produce carbon dioxide and water vapor releases energy. It will take some similar amount of energy to convert carbon dioxide and other materials into plastics.

They mention the use of enzymes, which are sort of an organic catalyst that reduces the 'activation energy' of a reaction, but not the net energy flow. Making CO2 into plastic is still going to be an endothermic reaction. I just hope that they aren't powering their plant from a coal power plant. ;-)
For discussion only, I'll assume that the plastic is a linear carbon/hydrogen polymer. That's classic high density polyethylene which is used in milk jugs and other plastic storage bottles. Putting in some side chains would make it have slightly different properties but I won't go there. HDPE is made with ethylene on a catalyst. This reaction gives off heat (exothermic). It's safe to assume that hooking carbon molecules together with out the double bond that's in the ethylene that heat would be required.

Since this article is just one in a long line of "scientific breakthrough" articles that will probably go nowhere, we could say that this reaction would absorb heat from the atmosphere. It could replace air conditioning!!!
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Old 07-30-2014, 02:06 PM   #7
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I did a bit of looking on the Web about this company. No, they are not capturing CO2 in the air, but using methane.

Their process is real and has already produced plastic. An independent chemist said that the trademarked Aircarbon plastic looks like polypropylene and can be cheaper than that currently produced.

Yes, the process uses energy which has to come from somewhere. But another independent source said that the process was a net carbon reducer. However, many experts said that it would not make that much of a dent in the total carbon emission, but a step in the right direction.

This is a real process, and has turned out a real product. The same cannot be said about the silly solar road pavers and road piezo-generators which are just scams.

Now, I wonder how we are going to capture all that methane produced by cows. Man, these free-ranging cows will need a long, long coiled hose attached to them.
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Old 07-30-2014, 04:10 PM   #8
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There's a description about the process on the company's website and a youtube video.

Newlight Technologies
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Old 07-30-2014, 04:23 PM   #9
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The problem with that technology is that EPA has mandated greenhouse gas emission reductions through the passage of regulations across many industries making the feedstock for this process "raw material constrained".

Most "free" methane emissions come from fugitive emissions of natural gas (and crude oil) production. Cows are good, but there ain't enough of them, and they get turned into steaks and burgers.
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Old 07-30-2014, 05:04 PM   #10
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Interesting....

An interview (dated in April) from the guy at Newlight:

Newlight Technologies Raises $9.2M to Make Plastic from Greenhouse Gases | Fox Small Business Center


I do agree with the part about the market based solution. Gotta follow the money
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Old 07-30-2014, 05:16 PM   #11
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Someone should quickly come up with a device that converts natural gas to a solids product that can be stored for later use. Right now they are flaring billions of cubic feet of natural gas because there is nowhere to store it.
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Old 07-30-2014, 08:55 PM   #12
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Someone should quickly come up with a device that converts natural gas to a solids product that can be stored for later use. Right now they are flaring billions of cubic feet of natural gas because there is nowhere to store it.
Gosh! Why didn't we chemical engineers think of that?
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Old 07-30-2014, 09:38 PM   #13
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Gosh! Why didn't we chemical engineers think of that?
I guess I left out the word economically
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Old 07-30-2014, 10:01 PM   #14
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......... Right now they are flaring billions of cubic feet of natural gas because there is nowhere to store it.
There are places to store (or process) natural gas that's being flared, its just that there are no pipelines in many of those well locations to transport it to those places.

The problem is being addressed as permits to construct, money, labor and steel become available.
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Old 07-30-2014, 10:33 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by M Paquette View Post
I'm just wondering what the energy budget is for this process. They're basically taking in carbon dioxide as a source of carbon and oxygen, and producing some form of plastic, which implies that they are adding hydrogen, nitrogen, and possibly other elements.

Plastics generally have much more energy bound up in their molecular structure than does carbon dioxide. That is, burning plastics to produce carbon dioxide and water vapor releases energy. It will take some similar amount of energy to convert carbon dioxide and other materials into plastics.

They mention the use of enzymes, which are sort of an organic catalyst that reduces the 'activation energy' of a reaction, but not the net energy flow. Making CO2 into plastic is still going to be an endothermic reaction. I just hope that they aren't powering their plant from a coal power plant. ;-)
Well said. It is likely that the energy to power such a plant will produce more carbon emissions than it will capture. Between electricity, usually provided by coal-powered plants, or perhaps processes that require some heat, which also will come from burning of fossil fuels, one has to look at the net carbon conversion of carbon. Not to mention what is involved energetically in isolating those "enzymes" for part of the process.
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Old 07-30-2014, 11:04 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by easysurfer View Post
....

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Here's how it works: Carbon emissions are captured from farms, landfills, and energy facilities and are fed into a 50-foot-tall reactor at Newlight's plant. A bundle of enzymes strips out the carbon and oxygen and rearranges them into a substance they call air carbon.
....
"Air carbon"? So that's what air guitars are made from.
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Old 07-31-2014, 04:56 AM   #17
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"Air carbon"? So that's what air guitars are made from.
Along with hats for airheads...
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Old 07-31-2014, 07:30 AM   #18
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Someone should quickly come up with a device that converts natural gas to a solids product that can be stored for later use. Right now they are flaring billions of cubic feet of natural gas because there is nowhere to store it.
There are various technologies available to turn natural gas into liquids. I've worked on several different ones. Making it economical is not easy. There are some large projects being looked at that are based on the cheaper natural gas prices currently in the US. The natural gas sources being flared now are usually relatively small and can't justify either a pipeline or a conversion technology.
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Old 07-31-2014, 09:51 AM   #19
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This process does not "suck" the carbon out of the air. The concentration of methane is too low for it to be efficient. So, they need a source richer in methane. Natural gas is abundant with methane, so I am sure they have looked at that. However, their immediate plan is to build a plant next to a dairy farm for a copacetic relationship. See, there's always cows involved, I told you.

But, but, but how do we capture methane from the cows', er, ends?

So, I did a bit of research, and cow manure in decomposition emits a lot of methane. The process is hastened by heating the manure in a "digester", which also allows the gas to be captured. Traditionally, this gas is burned to produce electricity and to help run the plant.

They expect to make up to 50 million pounds of plastic per year in a plant built next to a Californian dairy farm. Wow, these cows are cow manure is a prolific methane producer, much more than I thought.
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Old 07-31-2014, 11:05 AM   #20
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I guess I left out the word economically
It is Green. Economy takes a back seat to political expediency. You have no idea.
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