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CO2 Emissions NewLight Technologies AirCarbon for carbon capture

Published on January 3rd, 2014 | by Tina Casey

17

Who Needs Tar Sands Oil When We Have AirCarbon?



The company NewLight Technologies first came across our radar last year, when it announced a system for making plastic almost out of thin air. Instead of using petroleum, the feedstock is the airborne carbon emitted by sewage treatment plants, landfills, power plants, and other industrial sites, so in addition to reducing the need for petroleum the system also captures and recycle greenhouse gas emissions.

How’s that for a nice sustainability twofer? Now that NewLight Technologies is a star – just last month it made headlines in USAToday – let’s see what they’re up to now.

NewLight Technologies AirCarbon for carbon capture

Plastic bowls (cropped) by mmaier.

Carbon Capture For Plastic Products

When we first met NewLight Technologies the company was using the name AirFlex for the plastic produced by its carbon capture system, which now goes by the name AirCarbon™.

According to NewLight, AirCarbon is the performance equivalent of a range of plastics that includes polypropylene, polyethylene, and polystyrene.

AirCarbon also lends itself to various manufacturing processes including extrusion, blown film, fiber spinning, and injection molding.

To top it off, AirCarbon plastic is biodegradable and recyclable, and to top that off, Newlight cites a third party verified cradle-to-grave analysis demonstrating that AirCarbon is a carbon-negative material:

AirCarbonTM is an independently-verified, cradle-to-grave (including all energy inputs, transportation, and end-of-life) carbon-negative material, quantifiably reducing the amount of carbon in the air in every ounce of AirCarbon we make.

Turning Greenhouse Gases Into Plastic

The NewLight system took years of hard slogging to develop but the basics are relatively simple. Emissions are funneled into a  patented conversion reactor and carbon and oxygen are separated out, then reassembled into long chains of molecules called polymers, aka plastic.

If this starts ringing some bells, you might be thinking of our old friends over at LanzaTech. Back in 2010 the company announced a system for making plastic with waste gas from industrial sites and other sources, and just last fall it won a $4 million Department of Energy grant to scale up its system.

Both LanzaTech and NewLight have caught the eye of sustainability leader Virgin. LanzaTech has teamed with Virgin Atlantic to capture waste gas for jet fuel, and according to USA Today  NewLight expects to pair with Virgin Mobile for making cell phone cases.


Meanwhile, the Wisconsin institutional furniture products company KI, which has a soup-to-nuts sustainability focus of its own, will also be among the first US companies to incorporate AirCarbon into its products.

Keystone Who?

Getting back to that tar sands oil thing, not too long ago President Obama said that approval of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline would be contingent on its benefit to the US.

As the approval process winds up to a climax, it would be helpful to keep in mind the contrast between a process that helps manufacturers and other US businesses monetize their waste while reducing harmful airborne pollutants, and a massive new piece of fossil fuel infrastructure that imposes new risks on existing communities while creating just a handful of permanent jobs.

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About the Author

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+.



  • dinesharora

    Dinesh arora

  • Esteban Sperber Frankel

    This could change the world completely, for example in China are suffering with the high carbon air has in the big cit[es like Beijin Shangay, etc:, inckuding the whole world, but I am worried what the big oil, chemical corporations and goverments will do?, they don’t like that some one put the nose in theiy bussines.
    There is another way to use methane, cracking to hydrogen and carbon black with plasma reactors, hydrogen can produce electricity, water and heat through H fuel cells, and byproduct carbon black for raw material to many products,

  • James Van Damme

    There is less and less “waste carbon” all the time, as landfills and plants learn to use it instead of venting it.

  • JMin2020

    Thanks for the post Tina. This is a great piece of technology. I expect the company will do well. One may be witty to set up methane traps for fugitive methane emissions as well as conversion of CO and CO2 Emmissions in Intustrial Applications.

  • Steeple

    Since we make most of our plastics out of ethane and propane, of which there is next to none in heavy tar sands, the author once again makes an inflammatory and ill informed assertion in the headline.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Another process that can help fossil fuels hang on a bit longer.

    The coal plant may not be profitable on its own but with a plastic plate factory providing a bit more income it will burn coal for more years.

    I’ll get interested in this stuff when the carbon comes out of the atmosphere and not a smoke stack.

    • Ronald Brakels

      The process doesn’t use CO2, it instead uses methane. This probably wasn’t made clear in the article on account of whoever wrote the press release deliberately lying through carefully not lying.

  • Benjamin Warr

    I’m presuming that as the aircarbon biodegrades (say in soil) that the Carbon is not oxidised but becomes part of the recalcitrant soil carbon repository, because if it is oxidised by bacteria then surely the CO2 is released to the atmosphere ….some clarification of this point would be interesting.

    • Omega Centauri

      And the inputs can not be just CO2 and water. There must be an energy input as well (it could come from renewables). But if the energy input is from fossil fuels, it would be a carbon positive (bad) product still.

      • PeopleShouldLearnToRead

        You should really learn to read the article before posting a comment. Posting comments such as the one you make can mislead or confuse other readers.

        • ppnl

          Maybe you should point it out as I seem to have missed it as well.

          • TinaCasey

            Thanks for your comments. You can follow the links in the article to NewLight’s website where they refer to the third-party analysis showing that AirCarbon is a lifecycle carbon-negative product, and if that does not provide enough detail you can contact the company for more information.

          • Hans

            When you burn the resulting plastic you will get CO2, water and heat. This means the plastic contains more energy than the CO2 and water they start with. This energy has to come from somewhere.

            If you get the energy by burning fossil fuel you will still have a carbon positive product.

            Even if renewables are used to provide the required energy it could still be more environmentally friendly to use these renewable resources to produce electricity to feed into the grid and thereby replacing fossil fuels.

            The third party analysis might shed some light, but the newlight website is not very informative and I cannot find any link to a report, or even the name of the third party.

      • Ronald Brakels

        This process doesn’t use CO2 to make plastic. Instead it uses methane.

        • Hans

          Thanks for the info. Just reading the title I was thinking:” where does the energy come from to split the CO2?”

          I don’t expect the bloggers here to understand all the details of all the technologies they write about (I don’t either). But some basic knowledge of physics (like the first law of thermodynamics) would help them to ask the right questions.

        • Hans

          In the mean time I checked their website, they claim they can use different greenhouse gasses:

          “First, air and greenhouse gas (such as methane/carbon dioxide biogas) is directed into Newlight’s patented conversion reactor”.

    • Ronald Brakels

      The process converts methane into one or more polyhydroxyalkanoates, although I don’t know how. But as everyone knows, polyhydroxaldanoates are produced by some bacteria as an energy storage medium which means that basically some bacteria got plastic fat. This means polyhydroxyalkanoates can be broken down by bacteria and are among the most biodegradable of plastics and they presumably produce water and CO2 when they do biodegrade.

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