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Scientists are already working on making plastic from human waste, algae and milk, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one company is working on making it from carbon dioxide. Massachusetts-based Novomer has gotten attention for nabbing investments, but its technology is finally getting close to hitting the market.


Peter Shepard, Novomer’s executive vice president of polymers explained, explained the company’s process to me. Novomer takes a petrochemical material, adds carbon dioxide and an innovative catalyst developed by Cornell University professor Geoffrey Coates to grow a polymer. Using this process, Novomer can control the length of the molecular chain for different types of materials.

Peter Shepard,这家公司的聚合物(部门)执行副总裁,向我解释整个过程。他们往石油化学材料中,加入二氧化碳以及一种由康奈尔大学Geoffery Coates教授研制的新型催化剂来制造聚合物。利用这个过程,Novomer公司可以控制不用材料类型的分子链长度。

The CO2 comes from a number of sources. One of their best sources is actually ethanol processing, Shepard says. While power plants like the one in the photo are large sources of CO2, their carbon often has other impurities mixed in. Novomer prioritizes carbon sources based on purity and concentration of CO2.



“If we take CO2, we replace half the petroleum component in the material,” Shepard says. “It’s a much lower cost than any petrochemical materials.” The challenge then becomes making materials that meet expectations for their applications. They’re exploring foams, coatings, and thermoplastics. Shepard says that materials from one resin they produce are probably six months to a year from being ready for commercialization.


Recyclability and compostability are still question marks, but Shepard says the company is working on understanding the biodegradability of its materials. Not that I’d ever suggest landfilling, but in Novomer’s case doing so would sequester some CO2.



Treehugger criticized Novomer for not replacing all of the fossil fuel in plastic and questioned whether it was a step in the right direction. However, after spending time with bioplastic industry reps recently at the Biopolymers Symposium in Denver, I’ve come to realize that the challenges to making 100 percent renewable, compostable plastic are enormous.



Nobody wants sustainable plastic more than the people who gathered in Denver. Some of them even openly referred to the petroleum-based part of the industry as “the dark side.” I’m sure Novomer would love to replace all the petroleum, but transforming an industry so large that several million tons constitutes a drop in the bucket is no simple proposition.



For the industry to adopt petroleum alternatives, the material needs to work on existing machinery, stand up to extensive performance testing, be affordable, and have an end-of-life strategy that jives with large-scale recycling and composting processes.


“You’re used to a trash bag that holds your trash and doesn’t fall apart,” Shepard says. “If the plastic we make doesn’t meet those performance standards, nobody is going to buy it.”


After hearing executives from DuPont and BASF talk about making changes to mascara bottles and shrink wrap, even the optimist in me knows we’re years away from pervasive eco-plastic. Until then, I’m comfortable giving props to companies like Novomer. At least they’re giving this a go.



Photo: Smoke stacks in California. Novomer is working to transform CO2 into plastic, reducing the reliance on petroleum. Credit: Devra.

照片中是 加利福尼亚的排放烟囱。Novomer公司正致力于将二氧化碳转化进塑料,减少对石油材料的依赖。撰者:Devra