The Germany-based Nova Institut says polyethylene and polypropylene made using CO2 as a feedstock will be on the market within the next 5-10 years.
Nova spokesperson Dr Fabrizio Sibilla says the process will provide a number of environmental benefits, which is why several countries are researching using CO2 as a feedstock, notably Australia, China and the US.
Nova Institut is currently organising the Conference on Carbon Dioxide as Feedstock for Chemicals and Polymers, which will take place in Essen, Germany, in October.
Speaking about the technology, Sibilla said: “If someone takes CO2 as a reactant, this can then be reduced to methane or Methanol. This can be converted to ethylene or propylene which can then be polymerised.”
This technology is already on the market where CO2 is already used as a reactant, for example for polyurethanes at Bayer and a polycarbonate at DSM, and many other companies are ready to move into this area over the next two years, including German chemicals manufacturer Evonik.
Sibilla declined to give exact figures for the energy savings because life cycle analyses are still in progress but said the materials show exactly the same qualities as those produced by conventional means.
The total environmental benefit will depend on where the CO2 comes from.
“From 2050 we want to be able to sequester the CO2 from the atmosphere cheaply but until then CO2 from combustion is a way to fill the gap,” he said.
There is still some environmental benefit from using CO2 from combustion and natural gas is cleaner than coal and oil.
“There is more natural gas than oil and its combustion releases CO2 and water, no other contaminants, so the CO2 from this could be captured,” said Sibilla. “For example, In the North Sea there was a disaster at an offshore platform, a methane well. This was still a disaster, but nothing compared to what happened with the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico!”
The industry still faces several challenges moving forward, notably producing enough hydrogen.
“Producing hydrogen is very energy demanding and part of the research is finding enough hydrogen in a cheaper way,” said Sibilla. “For mass distribution of these products we need more hydrogen at a cheaper price.”
He added: “Hydrogen is the only problem, the rest of the technology is optimised. Once that is solved we will be able to produce practically everything.”
The first polymers will be on the market in the next few years but they will be niche products and expensive per kilo.
More information about the conference can be found here.