Our Technology | Greenhouse Gas to Plastic
Every day, plants and microorganisms use greenhouse gases to make useful materials, from carbon dioxide-capturing redwood trees and coral reefs to deep sea methane-capturing hydrothermal vent ecosystems.
Inspired by these carbon-capturing processes in nature, Newlight has developed, patented, and commercialized a carbon capture technology that combines air with methane emissions to produce a plastic material called AirCarbon. By weight, in its most basic form, AirCarbon is approximately 40% oxygen from air and 60% carbon and hydrogen from captured carbon emissions.
The AirCarbon production process begins with concentrated methane-based carbon emissions that would otherwise become a part of the air, rather than fossil fuels that would otherwise remain underground, including air-bound methane emissions generated from farms, water treatment plants, landfills, and energy facilities. Due to the high heat-trapping potential and superior thermodynamics of methane compared to carbon dioxide, the company’s primary focus is on sequestering methane-based greenhouse gases, which have over 20 times the heat-trapping impact of carbon dioxide (20 carbon dioxide capture plants would be needed to match the impact of 1 methane capture plant). Newlight is now using the company’s patented, award-winning greenhouse gas-to-plastic bioconversion technology to produce plastics from air and methane-containing greenhouse gas emissions generated at a farm.
First, rather than venting or combusting methane emissions, which would release 100% of the carbon emissions into the air, concentrated methane emissions are captured and inserted into Newlight’s polymerization system for material synthesis.
Once inside, the greenhouse gas is combined with air and Newlight’s 9X biocatalyst–the engine behind the AirCarbon production process, operating at nearly an order of magnitude higher yield than previous greenhouse gas-to-polymer biocatalysts. Previously, 1 kg of biocatalyst was required to make 1 kg of polymer, after which point the biocatalyst would exhibit a negative feedback response, and switch from polymer production to CO2 production. At this yield, the cost of production rendered the material too expensive to compete with oil-based plastics–approximately 3 times higher cost than oil-based plastics. Newlight’s 9X biocatalyst generates a polymer conversion yield that is over nine times higher than previous–from a yield ratio of 1:1 to 1:9, enabled by developing a new kind of biocatalyst over 10 years of research that does not exhibit a negative feedback response–fundamentally shifting the cost structure of the greenhouse gas to plastic conversion process, and enabling AirCarbon to out-compete oil-based plastics, such as polypropylene and polyethylene, on price.
Newlight’s biocatalyst works by combining air with methane, and assembling the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules therein into a long chain PHA-based thermoplastic material called AirCarbon that is, by weight, approximately 40% oxygen from air and 60% carbon and hydrogen from methane emissions.
Once synthesized, AirCarbon is removed from the reactor system and processed into a pellet, which is then melted and formed into shapes.
After 10 years of continuous pilot and demonstration scale operations, in August 2013, the AirCarbon production process was scaled to commercial scale, with the successful commissioning of a four-story, multi-acre AirCarbon production operation in California, using air and concentrated methane-based carbon emissions generated at an agricultural digester as inputs to produce AirCarbon.
In November 2013, Newlight unveiled the world’s first carbon-negative product made with AirCarbon, introducing the AirCarbon chair with KI at the Greenbuild International Conference in Philadelphia.
Newlight is now working with Fortune 500 partners and brand name market leaders to use AirCarbon as a material to launch carbon-negative products across a range of market segments, including in automotive, electronics, construction, apparel, and others:
Products that harness greenhouse gas emissions as a resource, reduce cost, and improve the world.
The Newlight GHG-to-Plastic™ Process
|Capture: First, concentrated methane emissions that would otherwise become part of the air, from places like farms, landfills, and energy facilities, are directed into Newlight’s patented conversion reactor.|
|Isolate: Next, those carbon emissions are combined with air and Newlight’s biocatalyst, which pulls oxygen out of air and carbon and hydrogen out of methane.|
|Polymerize: Finally, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen are re-assembled to form a long chain thermopolymer, called AirCarbon, which is by weight approximately 40% oxygen from air and 60% carbon and hydrogen from sequestered methane.|