The world’s first successful large-scale production of a polypropylene carbonate (PPC) polymer using waste carbon dioxide (CO2) as a key raw material has resulted from a projected funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy.
The PPC polymer production run, conducted by Novomer in collaboration with specialty chemical manufacturer Albemarle Corporation (Orangeburg, SC), tested scale-up of Novomer’s novel catalyst technology. Requiring only minor modifications to existing Albemarle facilities, the run produced seven tons of finished polymer, which will be used to accelerate product qualification.
The Novomer process uses a catalyst—a material that speeds up the rate of a reaction but is not consumed—to create PPC polymers through the co-polymerization of CO2 and chemicals called epoxides. The process results in polymers containing more than 40 percent CO2 by weight. The CO2-containing polymers can be tailored for applications with a broad range of material characteristics from solid plastics to soft, flexible foams, depending on the size of the polymer chain.
Novomer is positioning its new polymer technology to compete with conventional petroleum-based raw materials across a diverse range of applications, including flexible, rigid, and microcellular packaging foams, thermoplastics, polyurethane adhesives and sealants, and coating resins for food and beverage cans.
“We are pleased with the results of this first run and thank the U.S. Department of Energy for their support,” said Dr. Ron Valente, Novomer’s Vice President of Research. “This campaign clearly demonstrates the robustness of our catalyst and manufacturing process, and we are confident in the ability to move to a larger scale as demand warrants.”
Conventional production of plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The Novomer process reduces the use of these fuels by replacing up to half of the mass of the petroleum-based product with CO2. Capital requirements and operational costs to produce the new polymers closely mirror conventional production costs, and the products demonstrate increased strength and environmental resistance relative to existing polymers. Incorporation into existing formulations results in packaging foams with higher tensile strength and load-bearing capacity, and adhesives and coatings with improved adhesion, cohesive strength, and “weatherabilty” properties, such as UV- and water-resistance.
Converting captured CO2 into products such as chemicals, plastics, fuels, building materials, and other commodities is an important component of the Office of Fossil Energy’s Carbon Capture and Storage program, managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory. This approach could be especially valuable in reducing carbon emissions in areas of the country where geologic storage of CO2 is not practical.