IDEA WATCH | OCTOBER 2016
And other things made from greenhouse gases
Carbon dioxide: it’s cheap. It’s abundant. And we’re desperate to put it anywhere but into the atmosphere. Now some savvy scientists and entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make carbon emissions into raw materials for everything from facial creams to fuel.
The payoff could be huge for those who get in the game early. XPRIZE has launched a $20 million global competition to spur innovators to create everyday products out of captured carbon. And to create an economically feasible carbon supply chain, the Virgin Earth Challenge will pony up $25 million in prize money for technologies that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at scale.
1.California startup Newlight Technologies developed carbon-negative plastic AirCarbon™ from methane-based emissions. Their proprietary technology takes carbon that was once free in the atmosphere and puts it to use in the form of office chairs, cell-phone cases, soap dishes, and more. The company recently entered into an agreement with IKEA that enables the home furnishings giant to produce AirCarbon to use in its products.
2.Mineral Carbonation International in Canberra, Australia, sequesters carbon in cement, paving stones, and plasterboard by speeding up a natural geologic process. They’re heating rock that’s rich in the mineral serpentine so it reacts with compressed CO2 to form magnesium carbonate and silica sand. These substances can in turn be used in building materials and other products.
3.Startup company Liquid Light has a low-cost, energy-efficient process that converts captured CO2 into chemicals that could replace petroleum in everyday consumer products—from plastic bottles to antifreeze to facial cream. MIT Technology Review named Liquid Light’s cofounder and chief science officer Emily Cole one its “Innovators under 35” in 2014.
4.Austin, Texas-based Skyonic is turning power-plant emissions into baking soda and bleach.
5.Audi has begun producing a diesel fuel made from carbon dioxide and water. In conjunction with German energy company Sunfire, the car manufacturer is using CO2 provided by Switzerland-based Climeworks—which plans to build an industrial-scale carbon-capture plant in Zurich—to synthesize this net-zero carbon fuel.
6.Chemists at George Washington University in Washington, DC, are making carbon nanofibers out of atmospheric CO2. (1) The flexible, durable, and conductive nanofibers can be used in products ranging from airplane components to tennis rackets.
1. Ren J et al. One-pot synthesis of carbon nanofibers from CO2. Nano Letters. 2015.
Photos: AirCarbon chair ©newlight.com, Cement board ©Michael Holley, Tennis racket ©Vladsinger
What to Read Next
With this organic molecule, inexpensive, environmentally-friendly flow batteries could hold more energy and last longer
A solar border would alleviate a range of binational problems. For one, it would have a civilizing effect.