The New Zealand-based clean tech company LanzaTech has just announced a successful run of its new technology for reclaiming industrial waste gasses to produce 2,3 Butanediol, a foundational chemical from which spring a variety of products including fuels and even plastics.
If LanzaTech’s technology proves successful on a commercial scale, it provides yet another pathway for the world to continue manufacturing products, including energy products, without continuing the high-risk harvesting of fossil fuels that has wrecked so many local economies. It also provides another alternative for producing plastics and fuels without using food crops or taking land out of food crop production.
LanzaTech and Reclaiming Waste Gas for Renewable Ethanol
Last year, LanzaTech announced that it developed a proprietary microbe that digests carbon monoxide in the waste gas from steel mills, converting it to pure ethanol. The process is based on fermentation, and it turns out that waste gas from steel mills is an ideal medium because it has a high concentration of carbon monoxide, with little or no hydrogen. You would think that nothing – not even a microbe – could survive in that toxic stew, but LanzaTech scientists found that certain microbes actually thrive under those conditions. The finding represented a giant step toward developing a commercially viable process for reclaiming waste gas, because it eliminated the need for investing in the expensive equipment that would otherwise be needed to precondition the gas for microbial life.
Plastic from Waste Gas
Petroleum based plastics are made by cracking petroleum, and bio-based plastics are made by fermenting sugars from plants. In contrast, LanzaTech’s process reclaims an industrial byproduct that would otherwise go to waste. The chemical 2,3-BD can be converted through simple processes into butenes, butadiene and methyl ethyl ketone. These substances, in turn, are the building blocks for producing synthetic rubbers, plastic, textiles and other products.
Image: Smokestacks by otodo on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.