Researchers from the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University have developed a new way to convert waste carbon dioxide into a molecule that is the basic starting point of making plastic. This new method uses global ethylene that is derived from carbon dioxide, which is huge. It utilizes half a billion tons of the carbon that is emitted every year. This new development could offset global carbon emissions significantly.This is the European Regional Development Fund logo. (Source: European Regional Development Fund)This is the European Regional Development Fund logo. (Source: European Regional Development Fund)

“Carbon dioxide is responsible for much of the damage caused to our environment," said Dr. Enrico Andreoli, head of the CO₂ utilization group at ESRI. "Considerable research focuses on capturing and storing harmful carbon dioxide emissions. But an alternative to this is to use the captured CO2 as a resource to make useful materials. That's why at Swansea we have converted waste carbon dioxide into a molecule called ethylene. Ethylene is one of the most widely used molecules in the chemical industry and is the starting material in the manufacture of detergents, synthetic lubricants, and the vast majority of plastics like polyethylene, polystyrene, and polyvinyl chloride essential to modern society."

The current method of creating ethylene is to use steam that comes from cracking oils. This method is dependent on fossil fuels, which are harmful for the environment as well as a quickly diminishing resource.

The CO₂ utilization group uses CO₂ water and green electricity in order to create a green process for producing ethylene at room temperature. The main part of the new process is a new catalyst. This catalyst is engineered to speed up the formation of ethylene.

"We have demonstrated that copper and a polyamide additive can be combined to make an excellent catalyst for CO2 utilization. The polyamide doubles the efficiency of ethylene formation achieving one of the highest rates of conversion ever recorded in standard bicarbonate water solutions," said Dr. Andreoli.

The paper on this research was published in ACS Catalysis.