What if the production of plastics could help combat climate change rather than contribute to it? A groundbreaking collaboration between Abu Dhabi’s Masdar, Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical Group, and INPEX is exploring exactly that possibility.
Together, they are venturing into the world of carbon-negative plastics, envisioning the first commercial-scale polypropylene made from carbon dioxide and green hydrogen.
Polypropylene, a versatile plastic invented in the 1950s, is ubiquitous in our daily lives, found in bottles, jars, and food packaging. Its global production reached a staggering 79 million metric tons in 2022 and is projected to climb to 105 million metric tons by 2030. Conventionally, polypropylene production relies on crude oil as its starting material.
The transformative potential lies in the novel approach taken by Masdar, Mitsubishi Chemical, and INPEX. They plan to produce polypropylene from e-methanol, a fuel synthesized using green hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Green hydrogen is obtained by splitting water through electrolysis, a process powered by renewable energy sources.
Here’s where the carbon-negative magic happens: E-methanol, when used as a fuel, releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. However, when this e-methanol is utilized to manufacture polypropylene, the captured CO2 is sequestered within the plastic, making the final product carbon negative. This means that the process removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits during production.
In 2021, the chemical industry accounted for approximately 925 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, contributing around 2% to the global emissions. As the world shifts away from hydrocarbon fuels, oil and gas companies are exploring ways to maintain demand for their products. Embracing carbon-negative plastics opens new possibilities for a sustainable future.
Jean-Marc Gilson, CEO of Mitsubishi Chemical Group, emphasizes the dual challenge faced by the chemical industry to reduce emissions while spearheading the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. Adopting CO2 as a key raw material marks a significant step towards sustainability.
The impact of producing plastics using clean hydrogen and CO2 is further amplified by advances in hydrogen production from plastics. Innovators like the UK’s Powerhouse Energy have developed technologies that convert unrecyclable waste, including plastics, into syngas, which can then be used to produce hydrogen, electricity, and chemical inputs. Plastics made from renewable hydrogen, which can be recycled back into hydrogen, exemplify the circular economy’s potential.
Carbon-negative plastics not only offer a sustainable alternative to traditional polypropylene but also hold the promise of addressing the global challenge of climate change. By tapping into the power of clean hydrogen, this collaboration between Masdar, Mitsubishi Chemical, and INPEX pioneers a path towards a greener, more circular future.