A team of researchers has developed a new mechanism that harnesses CO₂ (carbon dioxide) to produce biodegradable plastics, also called bioplastics.
This project meets two important objectives: reduce the accumulation of non-degradable plastics and remedy greenhouse gas emissions.
An ecological alternative to produce plastics
The researchers, from Texas A&M University and Washington University in St. Louis, worked alongside their laboratory scientists for nearly two years to develop an integrated system that uses CO₂ as a raw material for bacteria to grow in a chamber solution. of nutrients and produce bioplastics.
“The benefits of technology are multifaceted”, said Josha Yuan, project researcher. “It is carbon negative and can certainly mitigate global climate change while also producing degradable plastics that can replace non-degradable petrochemical plastics”he added.
The platform developed by this team also has a much faster and more efficient reaction speed than photosynthesis, which also captures CO₂ and is more energy efficient. “The key was to convert the CO₂ into something the bacteria could use”Yuan said. “We chose acetate and ethanol as intermediates. These water-soluble molecules allowed rapid transfer of electrons, energy, and mass and allowed the entire system to function quickly.”commented in detail.
The process has two marked stages of work. “In theory, it is like a train with units connected to each other”said Susie Dai, a researcher on the project. “The first unit uses electricity to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol and other two-carbon molecules, a process called electrocatalysis. In the second unit, the bacteria consume the ethanol and carbon molecules to become a machine to produce bioplastics, which are different from petroleum-based plastic polymers that are more difficult to degrade.he explained.
If the technology presented is successful enough to produce bioplastics on an economic scale, a condition that has not yet been fully evaluated, industries could replace traditional plastic products with others that have less negative environmental impacts.
Under the current environmental context, the impact of a negative carbon initiative is much greater than that of a neutral carbon, because while the latter only guarantees the absence of emissions, the mechanism used uses existing emissions to take advantage of them in a circular process. In practice, this translates into the mitigation of CO₂ emissions from many industries, such as those in the energy sector, for example, such as gas and electricity installations, which would benefit greatly, depending on their volume of emissions.
The report of this work was published in the latest edition of the chem magazine.