Recently, Chinese scientists have realized the artificial synthesis of starch from carbon dioxide for the first time. This result is still in the laboratory stage, but it is estimated that it is not far from the day when "you can be full by drinking northwest wind."
Although carbon dioxide is always closely linked to the greenhouse effect and global warming, its "jobs" may be more abundant than you think. As a good raw material, in addition to ensuring food security, carbon dioxide can also play a vital role in reducing the use of fossil fuels and plastic products.
▲ Picture from: Pangaia
In this pair of sunglasses in front of your eyes, its lenses come from recycled carbon dioxide. Under certain conditions, carbon dioxide can be converted into ethylene-the basic component of making plastics.
Sports shoes, yoga mats, shampoo, washing powder, wall paint… Many things that we can't find in our lives are fossil fuels. It is estimated that there are at least 6,000 such products, but the actual number may be much larger.
▲ Picture from: Fast Company
Like sunglasses, these products may also be made from recycled carbon dioxide. Many companies are doing this and trying to commercialize and scale it.
Beyond fossil fuels, get carbon in a better way
The technology for making carbon dioxide sunglasses comes from the start-up company Twelve. Twelve was one of the first companies to commercialize "artificial photosynthesis". The company uses renewable electricity and water to produce carbon from carbon dioxide and convert it into compounds such as ethylene.
▲ Picture from: Twelve
In addition to sunglasses, Twelve is also developing more technologies to capture and use carbon dioxide, broaden its business scope, and eliminate the use of crude oil, natural gas or coal in more products. According to Flanders , co-founder of Twelve , these carbon dioxide-based products will be the same as traditional products in terms of quality and performance.
Many large companies are also considering cooperation with Twelve to use less chemical products and reduce their carbon footprint.
In July of this year, P&G and Twelve collaborated to develop Tide laundry detergent with carbon dioxide as a raw material ingredient; last year, Twelve cooperated with Mercedes-Benz to manufacture the first auto parts using recycled carbon dioxide. A new car contains about 300 kilograms of polymers, almost all of which can be made from carbon dioxide, even for electric cars.
▲ Picture from: Twelve
In addition, Twelve has also manufactured another "carbon conversion" device suitable for industrial sites where carbon dioxide has been captured. Fossil fuel companies Shell, Repsol and SoCalGas have all started small pilot projects with Twelve. Driven by investor pressure and stricter policies, these companies are eager to find ways to reduce their own production emissions.
The recovered carbon dioxide seems to be "infinitely scarce for future generations."
▲ Picture from: unsplash
On August 9 this year, the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) climate report was released . This assessment clearly pointed out that modern society’s continued dependence on fossil fuels is causing global warming at an unprecedented rate since 2000. Compared to 1850-1900, the current global surface temperature has risen by approximately 1.1°C.
"Climate change is happening, and people do feel it. This report just provides scientific verification to the public, telling them: Yes, what you feel is true." A climate scientist from Environment Canada pointed out.
▲ Picture from: unsplash
At the same time, the IPCC report emphasizes a more important point: taking positive action now, many of the most terrifying effects of climate change can still be avoided. This is also the significance of recycling carbon dioxide and commercializing it. According to Flanders, co-founder of Twelve:
We will not get rid of carbon-based materials. They are all by our side. But we can get carbon in a better way. You don't need to use fossil carbon to get it.
From life to industry, how to capture carbon dioxide
There is more than one company like Twelve. More and more companies and researchers are working hard to better capture carbon dioxide and convert it into valuable and marketable products. From beverages and clothing to building materials, they experimented with various possibilities.
▲ Picture from: AirCarbon
Newlight Technologies, which also launched carbon-reducing sunglasses, has a different approach from Twelve. They spent more than ten years using a marine microorganism to develop a material called "AirCarbon". These microorganisms feed on methane and carbon dioxide and convert them into natural polymers, making them shaped like plastic. AirCarbon can be used to make straws, tableware, handbags and sunglasses.
▲ Picture from: AirCarbon
The biggest challenge Newlight faces is to rapidly expand production to reduce prices. Its current products range from a tableware set for $6.99 to a handbag for $520-much more expensive than traditional similar products currently on the market.
Newlight CEO Mark Herrema also realized this:
If you really want to have a huge impact on the environment, you must focus on performance, price, and scalability. Otherwise, it's just a good idea, and it's not good enough.
Retail brands such as food and fashion are only a small part of Newlight's strategy. In order to expand its business and maintain its survival, the company is negotiating cooperation with other brands.
The Air Company team in Brooklyn launched a negative carbon vodka. They use solar energy and special catalysts to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then combine the hydrogen with the recovered carbon dioxide to produce alcohol and water. The last step is to remove water by distillation and only release oxygen into the atmosphere. For every bottle of vodka produced, one pound of carbon is removed from the air.
▲ Picture from: Xprize
But the price is still an issue that cannot be ignored. A 750ml bottle of carbon-negative vodka costs $65, and the well-known vodka brand Absolut has the same specifications for about $20. Who is willing to pay such a high price for environmentally friendly vodka? According to CNBC, it tastes like regular vodka.
In the construction industry , carbon dioxide emissions can be converted into alternative fuels, reinforced concrete, carbon fiber and other valuable materials.
The CarbonBuilt team’s core technology comes from the University of California, Los Angeles. They embed industrial carbon dioxide emissions into concrete, which is similar in performance and cost to traditional concrete, and has no carbon tax or fines.
▲ Picture from: CarbonBuilt
The CCM team in the UK hopes to make better use of the captured carbon in various industries. CCM spent 2.5 million US dollars to develop a machine that can convert carbon dioxide into precipitated calcium carbonate for use in paper coatings, plastics, medicines, food, toothpaste and other products. CCM team member Imbabi believes:
An urgent problem is to create a place large enough to defuse the global annual carbon dioxide emissions of 40 billion tons. Cement alone cannot do this.
▲ Picture from: CCM
These companies or teams all have relatively mature technologies, but they all face the problems of the carbon dioxide recovery industry-it is difficult to scale in the short term, the effect of going alone is little, and the cost is high, which leads to high prices. The problems were entangled and seemed to be twisted into a knot.
A race for carbon technology economy
As the old saying goes, the problems caused by development can only be solved by development itself. Carbon neutrality is a long-term and extensive undertaking.
Bill Gates put forward the key concept of carbon neutrality "green premium", that is, the cost difference between products that produce carbon emissions and substitutes that do not produce carbon emissions.
The higher the "green premium", the further away from a zero-carbon future, especially for low-income countries with growing energy demand. Knowing which areas have green premiums, what factors have caused green premiums, and if the green premiums are already low, what are the reasons that hinder the application of zero-carbon products will all play a key role in the progress of carbon neutrality.
Generally speaking, there are three ways to reduce the "green premium": government regulation, company and investor commitments, and individuals buying more cleaning products to promote market development. This needs to be reflected in all aspects of power generation, production, agriculture, transportation and logistics, and daily life.
▲ Bubble water made of recycled carbon dioxide.
Therefore, the deadlock of environmental protection requires all parties to work together and take time to untie it patiently. Environmental protection is an industry in itself. While some people pay the bill, others also benefit. Technology, policy, and market are all important influencing factors.
The U.S. Department of Energy has invested billions of dollars in carbon capture, storage, and utilization technologies, including funding for a number of research and development programs. The International Energy Agency predicts that this will result in $1 billion in new investment within six years.
Canadian startup CarbonCure is working with approximately 150 concrete factories around the world to introduce recycled carbon dioxide into existing production facilities. According to its founder, it can provide both environmental and economic benefits. If it is true, then it naturally has a competitive advantage-even if a company does not care about climate change, it always wants to save money.
▲ CarbonCure concrete truck. Picture from: CarbonCure
Newlight tries to let customers know exactly how much carbon their purchases have eliminated. The company has partnered with IBM to use its blockchain technology to track every step of the manufacturing process and its carbon footprint. Newlight CEO Mark Herrema said:
Most people want to do something good, but the problem is lack of information. When you buy a T-shirt, you don't know that 700 liters of water are used to make it. If you know that this one is 700 liters and that one is 7 liters, this may affect your decision. So we want to do the same with carbon.
We hate the behavior of some companies to hand over the interests of consumers for the sake of environmental protection, and we are tired of those showcasing that stand up but don't do real things. But after all, environmental protection is for the cause of the future. Not only can we not stop our efforts in environmental protection, but we must also clean up the sand in the course of development, and complete a race of carbon technology economy in accordance with the laws of nature.
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