Making green plastic from captured CO2
Amsterdam, 26 June 2023 — To become climate neutral and circular by 2050, the chemical industry must stop using fossil fuels and raw materials and no longer emit CO2. This means electrification of processes that are currently still gas-driven, reduction of CO2 emissions, use of green electricity, but also the use of other raw materials, such as biomass or recycled plastic. Many innovations are needed to be able to become more sustainable.
Building materials plastic from CO2
During a webinar, TNO recently showed its promising electrochemical technique for converting the greenhouse gas CO2 into high-quality, green chemicals. The CO2 is captured from the chimneys and processes of the industry. Via electrolysis it is made into formic acid, which is already used in cleaning products. But also carbon monoxide for synthetic gas and ethanol and ethylene, the building materials for plastic.
At present, the carbon in plastic – the C in the molecule – mainly comes from petroleum or natural gas. TNO can therefore also extract that carbon from CO2. An additional advantage: waste gases and residual flows from companies suddenly become worth money, because you can make useful products from them.
TNO started developing this technique in 2016 and has scaled it up considerably in recent years. The research institute in Rijswijk has now built a pilot installation where CO2 is converted into chemicals via electrolysis. It’s called ZEUS. It is the largest independent CO2 electrolysis plant in Europe. “The ZEUS pilot is the flagship of our technology. It is one of the most advanced setups in the world,” says Matti van Schooneveld, senior business developer power-2-chemicals at TNO.
The installation converts CO2 into 1 kilogram of formic acid or carbon monoxide per hour at temperatures averaging 85 degrees Celsius. It has successfully run for thousands of hours. In a later phase, the installation converts CO2 into other basic raw materials for chemicals. It is a mobile unit that can also be tested on site at companies. The next stage in TNO’s CO2 electrolysis is to extract the CO2 directly from the air and separate it into a liquid solution. According to Van Schooneveld, the chemical industry will be able to produce CO2-free and cost-effective plastic in the future with ZEUS technology.