Our Technology | GHG to Bioplastic
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 a carbon capture technology that converts methane emissions and carbon dioxide emissions into a naturally-occurring bioplastic 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 or carbon dioxide-based greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise become a part of the air, rather than fossil fuels that would otherwise remain underground, including air-bound carbon 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 initial focus was on sequestering methane-based greenhouse gases, which have over 20 times the heat-trapping impact of carbon dioxide. Newlight has since adapted the company’s patented methane conversion platform to produce bioplastics from both methane and carbon dioxide gases.
First, rather than venting or combusting carbon emissions, which would release 100% of the carbon emissions into the air, concentrated methane-based or carbon dioxide-based greenhouse gas emissions are captured and inserted into Newlight’s polymerization system for material synthesis.
Once inside, the greenhouse gas is combined with a naturally-occurring microorganism-based biocatalyst–the engine behind the AirCarbon production process. Newlight’s biocatalyst works by pulling carbon out of methane or carbon dioxide, and combining that carbon with hydrogen and oxygen to synthesize a naturally-occurring PHA-based biopolymer material, called AirCarbon. Once produced, AirCarbon is removed from the reactor system, purified, and processed into a pellet, which can then be melted and formed into shapes.
After 10 years of laboratory and pilot scale operations, in August 2013, the AirCarbon production process was scaled to small commercial scale, with the successful commissioning of a four-story AirCarbon production reactor in California, using air and concentrated methane-based carbon emissions generated at an agricultural digester as inputs to produce AirCarbon.
Newlight is now working with Fortune 500 partners and brand name market leaders to launch AirCarbon-based products across a range of market segments, including in furniture, electronics, apparel, and others:
Products that harness greenhouse gas as a resource by using it to make sustainable materials.
The Newlight GHG-to-Bioplastic™ Process
|Capture: First, concentrated methane or carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise become part of the air, from places like farms, landfills, and energy facilities, are directed into Newlight’s bioconversion reactor.|
|Isolate: Next, those carbon emissions are combined with Newlight’s biocatalyst, which pulls carbon out of methane or carbon dioxide.|
|Polymerize: Finally, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen are re-assembled to form a long chain thermopolymer, called AirCarbon, which is by weight approximately 40% oxygen and 60% carbon and hydrogen.|