2020/03/02

What uses does CO2 have?

Categories: Circular economy in the plastics industry, Innovation and trends in plastic materials

One of the objectives in the field of sustainable development is the conversion of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, into reusable raw materials. During the last few decades, a lot of efforts have been made to succeed in transforming CO2 into chemical products with a high added value. As it happens, nearly 127.3 million industrial tonnes of CO2 in 2018 were emitted in Spain. This waste is now used as a raw material in line with the criteria set by the Circular Economy.

There are many reasons which make CO2 a molecule of interest, including that it is an abundant, cheap, non-toxic and non-flammable gas. Furthermore, turning it into other products reduces the greenhouse effect which it causes, creating a sustainable future by using CO2 as a renewable source of carbon.

Capturing CO2 (CC) is already an industrial reality. Not so far into the future, scientific advances will allow us to make this dream a reality: carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere will be captured, stored, transported and reused as a source of carbon to generate new products.

The direct use of CO2 currently allows us to conserve food, treat water, dry-clean clothes, manipulate artificial organs and is used in the cosmetics industry, amongst others. Furthermore, transforming CO2 allows us to obtain products such as acetylsalicylic acid, polymers or fuel, all considered to be of high added value.

The use of CO2 (CU) generates new economic growth opportunities by increasing innovation. This will drive a transition towards a Circular Economy and of decarbonisation, which will reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

The future of CO2

Around the year 2030, the development of technologies which use CO2 will, for example, allow us to buy a mattress with polyurethane foam synthesised through reused CO2, travel on a plane whose fuel (kerosene) has been synthesised through CO2, build houses or roads with cement or tar capable of capturing CO2 and eliminating it from the atmosphere, allowing a form of construction that reduces ones carbon footprint. We will be able to obtain synthetic fuels for lorries derived from CO2, eat crops which are entirely sustainable and self-sufficient as the fertilisers used to cultivate them will be derived from CO2, therefore reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

CO2 can be turned into a wide range of products. However, the low reactivity of the CO2 molecule means it requires catalysed processes in order for it to be processed.

To summarise, the use of CO2 as a raw material or as a co-reactant today is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, since it ignites the search for new solutions in industrial chemistry for decarbonisation and for a reduction in dependence on fossil fuels.

AIMPLAS conducts this research in line with its commitment to environmental sustainability. Thanks to this, companies in this sector can introduce the criteria from the Circular Economy into their own business model and convert the legislative changes that affect them into opportunities to improve their efficiency, reduce their environmental impact and increase their economic profitability. In this sense, AIMPLAS also investigates in the fields of recycling, biodegradable materials and products, and the use of biomass.

Mónica Viciano Miralles 
AIMPLAS researcher

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