Coca-Cola has unveiled plans to make its bottle caps from carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.
The company – one of the world’s biggest consumers of plastic – is funding a three-year trial at Swansea University as part of the company’s 2040 target.
Most of the current plastic packaging is made cheaply from fossil fuels.
However, it aims to ‘capture’ CO2 from the air or factory emissions to make the main component of plastics..
“Plastics produced today emit a lot of carbon dioxide into the environment,” said Professor Enrico Andreoli, the project’s lead researcher.
“Our starting material is carbon dioxide,” he said, “so we completely eliminate the process and make plastic without fossil fuels and fossil carbon.”
Industrial chemist Professor Andreolis said “the magic happens” in a tiny black electrode where an electrical charge is passed through a mixture of CO2 and water to produce ethylene, a key component of the flexible plastic used in bottle caps.
“We want to prove the technology in the lab,” he said, explaining how “success” would suggest ways to scale up the process.
Coca-Cola’s goal is to use “captured” carbon dioxide as a resource, taking it either from the air near its factories or directly from its smokestacks.
Ethylene is currently produced as a cheap byproduct of petrochemical processing, when fossil fuels are heated to more than 800C (1472F), “breaking” the molecules needed to make plastic.
According to the Climate Monitoring Group, in 2020 this process released more than 260 million tons of CO2, or nearly 1% of global CO2 emissions. Global Coal Project.
Craig Twyford, Coca-Cola’s venture director for Europe and the Pacific, said the company’s pledge by 2030 reducing carbon emissions by 30% will be mostly about more recycled plastic.
“From 2030 to 2040, we have to start making more radical bets…looking at many different technologies.”
“If humanity begins to reduce CO2 in large quantities, what good can we do with it?”
“We could use it to carbonate our drinks. Or we could use it – like Swansea – to make some packaging.”
In a similar project, the company is funding research in California to convert CO2 into artificial sugar.
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