How Recycled CO2 is Changing the Manufacturing Landscape

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Environmentalists have pushed greenhouse gases as being the leading cause of global warming. Carbon dioxide has been regarded as being the biggest contributor to the greenhouse effect. But what if there was a way to recycle the most abundant greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere?

Carbon dioxide is a major byproduct of industrial power generation that involves the burning of fossil fuel. The wasted gas is a greenhouse agent and is generated in enormous volumes every single year. In fact, it’s the fundamental element that’s responsible for changing our climate. Many scientists assert that tackling carbon dioxide released by industrial production could be our best option to fight global climate change.

So, if we could find a way to capture and reuse that wasted gas, in addition to what we’re already doing to reduce the amount released into the atmosphere, we’d be in a much better position in our global battle against climate change.

carbon-emissions

Recycling Carbon Waste

There has already been a lot of discussion and research on how CO2 from oil facilities and coal plants can be captured and stored. A number of projects have been carried out to determine the viability of capturing CO2 before it gets into the atmosphere, compressing it as much as possible and storing it deep in the ground forever. But several companies are now attempting to put the wasted gas to good use instead of simply burying it underground.

It’s all part of a new wave in the industry known as the circular economy. As it stands now, oil, gas and coal production result in more harmful carbon dioxide than any other industry. Most countries and states have enacted strict carbon taxation by now, and the cost of letting the gas into the air just seems to be going up.

The Alberta region of Canada, for example, enforces a $15 per ton tax on carbon emissions and British Columbia charges as much as $30 a ton. Though this tax may not be enough to impact the largely profitable operation of mining oil and gas, it may force companies to consider ways to reduce their carbon footprint and turn to carbon constrained way of operating.

Carbon capture doesn’t come cheap though, and in some parts of the world it may cost upwards of $90 to recover valuable, useful carbon from just one ton of smoke. However, a variety of useful carbon products can be made with the carbon recovered from this process, so the costs can be offset.

Companies Using CO2 Creatively

US company Novomer, along with Albemarle Corporation, successfully made polypropylene carbonate (PPC) using carbon dioxide waste and is already manufacturing with the help of these polyols. They produce better quality adhesives for industrial use. The research for the project was conducted with funding from the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. And a chemicals company based in Germany has been successful in using CO2 to create polyurethanes. The company, Bayer, believes this can be used to create soft foam used in mattresses.

A handful of companies are also getting creative in the ways that carbon dioxide is used once it is captured from coal plant fumes. Dry CO2 cleaning, for example, is a new and innovative technology that utilizes recycled carbon dioxide in a number of creative industrial applications.

This technology uses the gas for cooling machine tools, cleaning complex medical instruments and electronic devices, selective extraction and even eco-friendly dry cleaning. The solutions can be applied in a number of different industries including solar energy, fiber optics, original equipment manufacturing and semi-conductors. The added environmental benefit is that it helps manufacturers avoid using and disposing of millions of gallons of water.

These are just a few of the newer and more innovative ways that carbon dioxide is being recycled and put to good use. There are several other industries that are already re-purposing CO2 in useful ways:

  • The plastics industry uses captured CO2 for constructing polymers and poly carbonate.
  • The beverage industry uses the recycled gas for carbonated drinks.
  • Fire extinguishers use the gas for fire suppression.
  • CO2 can be used as shield gas in welding, protection for carbon powder, as an inert agent for blanket products, injected into metal casings, propellant in aerosol cans, dry ice pellets for sand blasting and dry ice in refrigeration.

The Future of CO2 Recycling

The costs for capturing carbon may be prohibitive at the moment, but new research is being done in order to make this strategy applicable on a much larger scale. As costs go down, we can expect the widespread adoption of this technique in a range of industries.

Though efforts are constantly being made to reduce the amount of CO2 released into the environment, the fact is that it’s still happening much more than it should and is still doing harm to the planet every hour of every day. So, until it can be completely eliminated, it’s critical that the gas is captured and used in other environmentally-safe ways.

If more companies and industries find ways to apply carbon capture and recycling, we can greatly reduce our impact on the environment and leave a better world for future generations.

jon-wikstromAbout the Author: Jon Wikstrom is a passionate environmental writer who frequently appears as a guest author on a variety of green technology blogs. He’s also the founder of Cool Clean Technologies, a Minnesota-based company that is pioneering the use of CO2 dry ice cleaning technology in the manufacturing field. To learn more, visit www.coolclean.com

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