A California-based chemical technologies company claims to have created a manufacturing technology that captures carbon and turns it into a material that replicates oil-based plastics, all while significantly out-competing on price. Newlight Technologies feels that its new discovery, a more affordable alternative called AirCarbon, has the potential to completely revolutionize the plastics manufacturing industry—starting with office furniture.
The world is addicted to oil, and not just the kind we put in our automobiles. Petroleum is lurking everywhere, most notably in the plastics that permeate our lives. Many eco-advocates encourage elimination of plastic toys, packaging, and dishware as a way to limit consumption of this filthy fossil fuel, but it can be hard.
Although it sounds magical, the concept behind AirCarbon is simple enough: Separate carbon from air—carbon that would otherwise be in the air we are breathing right now—and use what’s leftover to make plastic.
“Inspired by carbon-capturing processes found in nature, and as a result of Newlight’s breakthroughs in gas conversion yield and polymer performance, AirCarbon-based materials can replicate the performance of oil-based plastics while significantly out-competing on price, representing a market-driven solution to displacing oil, reducing material cost and stabilizing climate change,” explains a press release.
Now, the idea of pulling carbon from the air isn’t a new one: in fact, scientists have been trying to harvest air pollution in this way for a long time. While it was possible, it was never cost-effective, until now. Newlight Technologies founders and childhood friends Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel finally had a breakthrough when they developed a ten-times more efficient bio-catalyst, which strips the carbon from a liquefied gas and rearranges it into a long chain plastic molecule.
“By using carbon that would otherwise be in the air we are breathing right now, AirCarbon turns everyday goods into products that actually improve the environment,” said Mark Herrema, CEO, in the same release. “Combined with a cost profile that is more favorable than oil-based plastics, AirCarbon has the potential to change the world.”
While the implications of transforming greenhouse gases into an affordable, recyclable material are huge, both for industry and the planet, Newlight Technologies is starting small. In the future AirCarbon plastic will appear in the form of food containers and automotive parts. Coming next year: cellphone cases for Virgin Mobile. First, they’ve teamed up with KI, a global furniture company, to produce the world’s first carbon-negative office chair. Upon completion of lifecycle analysis and environmental testing in early 2014, KI will begin introducing AirCarbon into some of its most successful product lines, including the Strive and Grazie seating collections.