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Liquid Light: converting CO2 into plastic bottles and face cream

World Coal,

A New-Jersey based company is hoping to take CO2 and put it to good use: turning the greenhouse gas into the raw ingredients used to make plastic bottles, face cream and wood glue.

Liquid Light has already proved the company’s technology works in laboratories, and are now scaling it up to commercial size.

“We are opening up the door to a low-cost feedstock,” said Emily Cole, co-founder of Liquid Light. “Carbon dioxide is low cost relative to oil and gas. We are taking a pollutant and converting it into something that people use in everyday lives.”

If successful, the technology could revolutionise the carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry, which has so far struggled to incentivise investment and prove itself as commercially viable.

The technique developed by Liquid Light needs a relatively pure source of CO2. The CO2 gas pouring out of factory and power plant chimneys from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, is perfect.

The process uses an electrode coated with a catalyst (a substance that causes a chemical reaction without itself being affected), electricity and a source of hydrogen such as water.

According to the Guardian, the first step of Liquid Light’s process combines two CO2 molecules into a single negatively charged molecule called oxalate.

The second step uses different catalysts to create ethylene glycol, an organic compound used to make polyethylene terephthalate (pet) (the stuff in plastic bottles), polyester for clothing and antifreeze.

According to Cole, 1 t/CO2 could create between 10,000 to 20,000 bottles.

Cole will not say what catalyst her company uses, for commercial reasons. However, she says the process is cheaper than conventional methods.

“We see ourselves as a chemical technology company that will license technology to manufacturers,” she said. “Ethylene glycol is a really good product to develop because it can be produced with a really good cost advantage in a very large market. But we see a great future for this technology.”

Using different catalysts, Liquid Light’s process can make acetic acid – a chemical in vinegar which can be used to make PVA glues or glycolic acid used in skin care products.

“We have demonstrated the production of ethylene glycol at the laboratory scale, and now we are in the process of scaling up that technology. We will be commercial in the next three to five years and we will be making our first soda bottle this year in the lab,” Cole said.

“Maybe to the lay audience it does sound ‘out there’ that you take pollutants and the end product from the combustion of [fossil fuels] and convert it back into products and chemicals. But most people are excited at the idea of taking a pollutant and converting it into something of use, rather than just burying it in the ground,” Cole added.

If the technology is proven at a commercial scale, Liquid Light notes that by using 'co-feedstocks' along with CO2, a plant built with Liquid Light's technology can produce multiple products simultaneously.   

The company is already attracting the interests of investors, such as VantagePoint Capital Partners, BP Ventures, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, and Osage University Partners.

The firm has also been chosen by Biofuels Digest as the hottest small company in the advanced bioeconomy industry. 

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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