A plastic prototype with embedded CO2.
Courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. A plastic prototype with embedded CO2.

The discussion of CO2 sequestration typically centers on large-scale infrastructural projects such as trapping greenhouse gases below the sea floor. However, CO2 may also be stored within much smaller, everyday objects. As research and development projects over the past few years have shown, the embedding of CO2 in plastics is a double-win: not only is atmospheric CO2 reduced, but the properties of plastics can also be improved.

Chemists frequently put CO2 to use in a variety of areas, such as producing urea for fertilizers, methanol for fuel, or salicylic acid for aspirin. In 2011, scientists from the research organization Fraunhofer created a method of impregnating plastics with CO2, imparting antibacterial properties, dyes, and various non-toxic additives to the polymers. Since then, the development of CO2-impregnated plastics has grown. This year, the materials company Novomer announced the production of two plastics made with the greenhouse gas: polypropylene carbonate (PPC) and polyethylene carbonate (PEC).

Novomer claims that is PPC polyols (compounds used to produce a variety of polymers) are intended as alternative materials for conventional petroleum-based versions, and are rapidly preparing their materials for commercial production.

"One of the advantages of Novomer's CO2 technology is that it fits very well into existing chemical industry infrastructure," said Jason Anderson, Novomer's director of CO2 strategy and business development, quoted in Green Chemicals Blog. "The manufacturing process for our PPC polyols is actually quite similar to conventional polypropylene glycol production. This enables us to scale up production relatively quickly with low capital investments."

Since CO2-impregnation can be substituted for other, more environmentally damaging processes, scientists and manufacturers are positive about the sustainable advantages of the approach, such as the ability to reduce the utilization of petroleum or introduce additives to polymers at relatively low-melting points.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.