Polymers from CO2: Using Renewable Electricity in Electrochemistry to Make Sustainable Materials
Current global climate actions are not sufficient in reducing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and limiting global warming to 1.5-2° C by the end of the century. Unless urgent actions are taken to balance CO2 emissions and removals and urgently reduce the use of fossil carbon, phasing it out in the long term, climate change and biodiversity crises will accelerate, disrupting and threatening natural ecosystems and human societies.
Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) is attracting considerable attention as a new way to reduce the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while valorizing CO2 through the production of sustainable fuels and green chemical intermediates. Previous studies suggest that CCU can lead to carbon neutral products especially when utilizing captured carbon for chemicals production, where they replace fossil feedstocks.
Current fossil-based chemicals such as plastics cause a heavy environmental burden. In 2019, they generated 3.4% of global emissions, with 90% of these emissions coming from their production and conversion from fossil fuels. Additionally, we leave behind more than 13 million tonnes of plastic waste floating in our oceans. It would be highly beneficial to introduce new sustainable plastics which have a low carbon footprint, are easily recyclable as well as biodegradable.
There are different technologies for CCU which can produce a variety of chemicals. With electrochemistry we can use renewable electricity and directly convert CO2 with high selectivity and efficiency. Interesting monomers that can be produced electrochemically are oxalic acid and glycolic acid from which we can make novel polymers that perform better for their application and are better for the planet.
The question is how the many partners that are required for the process can be brought together. For a successful implementation we require a systemic approach and include stakeholders from CO2 producers to plastic producers, users, and consumers. How can everyone along the value chain benefit? What technical challenges lay ahead? And do we need governmental incentives and regulations?
Dr. Eric Schuler, Avantium Chemicals/University of Amsterdam
Prof. Gert-Jan Gruter, University of Amsterdam