RealTimeChem Week - Carbon Dioxide to Plastics
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This week (31 Oct – 6 Nov) is #RealTimeChem Week – if you’re a tweeting chemist or chemistry enthusiast, you’ll probably know what that is already, but if you’re not familiar with it check out the FAQ here! Like last year, I’m creating graphics showcasing the work of the three winners of the #RealTimeChem week competition I ran earlier in October – hopefully explaining cutting edge research in easily understandable terms!

The final graphic takes a look at the research of Econic Technologies, a company which uses catalysts to incorporate captured waste carbon dioxide into polymers, which can themselves be incorporated into useful plastics. More detail on their research is provided from their submission below:


“Recently, it was reported that the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere have reached an all-time high. Needless to say then, in addition to developing methods of reducing our emissions to avoid further increases in the levels of this ozone-harming molecule, it is also imperative that we find methods of utilising the waste CO2 already present in our environment.

It is the latter of these critical goals that we at Econic Technologies endeavour to achieve. At Econic, our innovative research is based around the development of new catalysts that can be used in the polymer industry. Catalysts are relatively simple molecules that are used in chemical reactions to speed up the rate of the reaction, allowing for chemicals to be synthesised, which would not otherwise be possible. Our catalysts facilitate reaction between CO2 and a small reactive molecule known as an epoxide, such that an alternating chain of the two components is formed, a polymer. In the absence of the catalyst, the energy required for the reaction to occue would be too high, and the two components would simply not react.

Using our methods, up to 40% CO2 can be incorporated into the final polymer – a significant advantage to our environment! Even more beneficial is that the polymerisation process can be performed using unpurified waste CO2 , which reduces the use of fossil fuel chemicals, and contributes towards a greener economy and resource efficiency. One of the significant challenges facing the incorporation of CO2 into materials is the costs associated with this process – typically, high temperature and pressures are required to obtain usable polymers, which decrease somewhat the overall carbon neutrality of the end product.

The major advantage of Econic’s technology is that much lower temperature and pressure can be used to achieve successful polymerisation than those currently used industrially. With this polymer in hand (or rather in a reaction flask!), there are a number of potential applications for its use, the most prevalent of which is its incorporation into polyurethane. Polyurethane can be, perhaps surprisingly, found in all aspects of our lives, from the memory foam in our mattresses, the insulation throughout our houses, the soles of our trainers, the resins used to coat our sports gear, and all the way through to the adhesives used to build our homes.

Clearly then, Econic’s technology and catalysts that allow for the incorporation of significant amounts of CO2 into all of these aspects of our everyday lives is a step forward in our, and future generations’, environmental sustainability.”


Want a graphic like this one to help explain your research? Find out how to get your own Chemunicate graphic here.



The graphic in this article is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. See the site’s content usage guidelines.


References & Further Reading

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1 Comment

  • MartynW
    Posted November 5, 2016 at 3:40 am 0Likes

    We already turn oil into plastics instead of burning it into carbon dioxide. Isn’t that basically the same thing?

    Anyway, the industrial world emits over 2 million pounds per second of CO2. Using the 40 percent number given above, that seems to require the manufacture of 25 tons of plastic per second to tie up just 1 percent of that output.

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