Preserving the Environment

Scientists Have Figured out How to Convert CO2 Into a Useful Material

October 21, 2014
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Scientists Have Figured out How to Convert CO2 Into a Useful Material
Companies are finding ways to capture excessive carbon and turn it into useful products. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The hated greenhouse gas gets a second life.

We all know that carbon dioxide, or CO2, isn’t just plant food. Due to human activity (from burning petroleum, coal and natural gas), too much of this naturally occurring gas is released into the air, where it becomes a greenhouse gas that traps heat and bakes our planet, contributing to climate change.

However, several companies are finding ways to capture this excessive carbon and turn it into a wide range of useful products. National Geographic recently featured three of these businesses that are sparing the atmosphere from this harmful pollutant.

1. Baking soda — Skyonic in Austin, Texas

This environmental engineering firm’s patented SkyCycleTM technology can capture more than 94 percent of emitted CO2 from a plant’s flue gas stream, according to MarketWatch. It then converts the captured emissions into baking soda and other chemicals that can be sold to cattle and oil industries. “We can take something that’s waste and turn it into something that’s profit,” President and CEO Joe Jones tells Bloomberg. “In a world that’s unsettled on carbon, we’re making actual progress.”

2. From wasted CO2 to fuel — Joule in Bedford, Massachusetts

This biofirm uses genetically engineered pond scum that can turn CO2 straight into fuel through photosynthesis. Sounds a little sci-fi, but what this company has done is created liquid fuel without needing a dinosaur to fossilize for millions of years underground, as National Geographic puts it. “What we are producing is really the same product that is being produced by the fuel industry today. We’re just doing it in real time,” says Tom Jensen, the company’s head of corporate development. Incredibly, if this technology is successfully scaled up, Joule’s fuel would only cost $50 a barrel, or $1.20 gallon, the company says.

3. Green plastics — Novomer in Waltham, Massachusetts

This chemical company uses carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide as a raw material to produce plastics, polymers and other chemicals. According to the company, while most plastics are manufactured almost entirely from fossil fuels, Novomer’s technology replaces up to half of the fossil fuels in the materials with carbon dioxide. National Geographic reports that the company currently sells its products in three forms: hot-melt adhesives (for autos, shoes, furniture, textiles), rigid insulating foam (used for insulating homes and buildings) and coatings (used for decoration and protection of metal, plastic and wood). “Converting carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from pollution into valuable materials has the potential to transform the plastics and materials landscape on a global scale,” says CEO Jim Mahoney.

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