Repurposing carbon shows promise as an important part of combatting climate change

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Throughout COP26, the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow, one word was at the heart of the debate over how policymakers must confront climate change: carbon.

Reducing carbon emissions is essential to combatting climate change for a safer and healthier planet for all—leveraging new technologies is key to doing so. These technologies have the ability to capture carbon so as to remove it from the atmosphere as well as repurpose it to create new materials and products with less environmental waste.

What is carbon capture?

Where there is carbon, there is a desire and technological development underway to capture it.

Carbon capture is the process of removing carbon dioxide from entities such as manufacturing and production facilities as well as the smokestacks of power plants running on fossil fuels.

However, it can also be used to remove carbon directly from the atmosphere through Direct Air Capture (DAC) or Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). Technologies are also being developed to extract it from oceans.

However, once carbon is removed from one source, it must be stored and sequestered somewhere. Often, storing it underground through geological storage is what makes the most sense.

Concrete is also proving effective in storing carbon. At its core, not much technology is needed to actually incorporate carbon dioxide into concrete since it can simply be added to the mixture. As the concrete churns, carbon dioxide converts to calcium carbonate and strengthens the concrete. However, concrete can become unpredictable over time as it ages, leading to structural instability. Climate change is quickening that deterioration.

From carbon capture to carbon recycling

The biotechnology sector holds the key to developing innovative solutions that make use of carbon as a material in manufacturing which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

LanzaTech, a carbon capture and recycling technology company, is using this technology to produce products ranging from sustainable aviation fuel to fragrances and materials. Notably, LanzaTech has partnered with athletic apparel company lululemon athletica inc. to make the world’s first yarn and fabric using recycled carbon emissions from different types of feedstocks. Microorganisms ferment the gas into ethanol, which is then converted to polyester.

“We believe that everything we use in our daily lives will someday come from recycled carbon emissions,” LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren said on the I am BIO Podcast in April 2021. “We really believe the future is about reusing waste resources, giving carbon a second chance at life, which then keeps fossil carbon in the ground.”

Newlight Technologies’ Covalent brand is also making breakthroughs in the world of high-end fashion by using microorganisms found in the ocean to convert air and carbon from greenhouse gases into a moldable biomaterial product known AirCarbon®. The product is then used to produce wallets, purses, phone cases, and sunglasses.

Virent, a biotechnology company specializing in fuel and chemical production, is making renewably sourced hydrocarbon molecules out of feedstocks and biomass through its patented BioForming® technology, which features catalytic chemistry to convert plant-based sugars into a wide array of hydrocarbon products. The technology is feedstock flexible and effective with conventional sugars from several crops, such as sugar beet and corn, as well as a variety of cellulosic biomass from sources such as agricultural waste and wood. The hydrocarbon molecules can then be added into existing infrastructure to produce fuels or chemicals.

The next steps for addressing carbon emissions

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to solving for climate change, but there may be a standout focus in how we address it,” said BIO Communications Director Connor McKoy. “It begins and ends with carbon, and BIO’s companies are at the forefront of turning this pollutant into a valuable commodity.”

Ultimately, carbon has proven itself to be highly adaptable—which is why so many different companies have found ways to not only eliminate it from the air and soil, but also to make it useful in transportation, manufacturing, or agricultural needs. This malleability must be harnessed for continued innovation, which is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

While regulatory changes at a global level can reduce the harmful effects of climate change, technological innovation is essential to confronting this issue.

“BIO is leading the charge on Capitol Hill in supporting policies that incentivize the capture, sequestration and creation of carbon-neutral products to build a greener economy,” added McKoy.

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