CO2BioClean: Turning CO₂ into Biodegradable Plastics

CO2BioClean: Turning CO₂ into Biodegradable Plastics.

CO2BioClean: Turning CO₂ into Biodegradable Plastics

Interview with David Newman, Communications Manager at CO2BioClean

CO2BioClean is using an innovative process to produce biodegradable plastics and polymers from CO₂ as a circularly sourced feedstock. What is driving them is their vision for a sustainable future and the potential of their technology to contribute towards global efforts to reduce CO₂ emissions and the use of fossil fuels in the production of plastics.

David Newman.

In an interview with K-MAG, David Newman shares his insights on the potential of biodegradable plastics and polymers produced using CO₂. He discusses the advantages of these materials, their applications, and the company’s vision for the future of bioplastics.

What is the story behind the founding of CO2Bioclean and what is the startup’s big, overarching goal?

David Newman: Dr. Fabiana Fantinel and Dr. Alessandro Carfagnini, the two founders of the company, have collaborated on various research topics over the last eight years, with a focus on producing biodegradable plastics or polymers using circularly sourced feedstocks, particularly PHA. Their collective work led them to discover that carbon dioxide could be used as a resource to make PHA. Given that CO₂ is an unwanted emission in many industrial processes, the idea emerged that using it for the production of biopolymers was a win-win scenario: reducing unwanted CO₂ emissions and creating biodegradable polymers and plastics that can be used in various applications.

How does the production of biopolymers from CO₂ work?

Newman: The company has a number of patents that define the technological process. Without going into too much detail, the use of CO₂ is (in its simplest form) another carbon source. All chemicals are made from carbon. This process substitutes one type of carbon (oil, gas) with another (CO₂). As our website says “the CO₂ conversion process is based on high yield bacterial fermentation. The finishing is integrated with the conversion step, specific for end use e.g., compound or fibres.” So essentially, we use bacteria, or microbes to ferment the CO₂ into polymers.

For example, a biogas plant could be a place where one of CO2BioClean’s plants could be installed.

What are the advantages of biopolymers made from CO₂ compared to conventional plastics and other bioplastics?

Newman: The overriding advantage is that we use a gas which would otherwise have been emitted into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Therefore, we avoid this emission and reduce the use of fossil sources, such as oil and gas, which are currently used to produce most plastics globally. The de-fossilization of the chemical industry is a significant challenge that CO2Bioclean hopes to contribute to resolving.

How does this affect production costs in comparison?

Newman: Naturally, the traditional plastics industry has huge scale and decades of experience to mature processes and to become highly efficient. It will take time before innovative materials can compete on the same scale. Nevertheless, we believe that given the cost of emitting CO₂ from industrial processes, we have a financial basis to generate materials cost-effectively and compete with traditional plastics in some applications. The final costs will depend upon volumes, applications, and existing marketplaces. It’s important to note that in cases where biodegradability is required (for example, a teabag), the competition is not against traditional, non-biodegradable plastics, but against other bioplastics.

How do you estimate the market potential for biopolymers from CO₂ now and in the future?

Newman: We and our investors believe the potential marketplace to be enormous. Just substituting 2% of traditional plastics globally would create a marketplace of around 8 million tons. Current production of biodegradable plastics globally is little more than 1 million tons so you can see the potential growth there is and the demand grows every day.

Which products is the bioplastic suitable for?

Newman: Given that PHA has intrinsic biodegradability, it is particularly useful in applications where this quality is an advantage. For example, think of bags for collecting food waste, teabags, and coffee pads. PHA can also be used in fishing gear that is often lost at sea, medical applications where the plastic can biodegrade harmlessly within our bodies, and even in products used in the cosmetics industry. The significant advantage of these polymers is that they can return to the soil and biodegrade naturally without causing harm to the environment.

Another possibility for this approach could be a steel mill.

What are your next goals?

Newman: This year, we have made significant progress in building our state-of-the-art R&D platform near Frankfurt. To achieve this, we require the right people to work with us, as well as an intricate process of procurement and project management. It’s an exciting time for us.

How would you describe your vision for the future of bioplastics?

Newman: In March, President Biden announced his ambition for 90% of American plastics to be bioplastics within 20 years, which indicates the scale of the revolutionary change underway. China also has similar ambitions to grow its bioplastics industry. However, Europe is still lagging behind and needs to embrace this new industry more enthusiastically. We hope to demonstrate with our process that it can be done efficiently using carbon dioxide as a feedstock and contribute towards both climate and material goals that are fit for a climate-neutral Europe in 2050.

While the production may sound abstract, the potential applications are quite tangible. For example, bioplastics could be used regularly at the breakfast table in the form of tea bags or coffee pads.

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