Making plastic from CO2

July 17, 2019

This is a series of articles highlighting some of the research projects at the University of Tokyo registered under its Future Society Initiative (FSI), a framework that brings together ongoing research projects that contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

FSI Project 014

Chemical products have traditionally been made using fossil resources.
From a chemical point of view, the addition of oxygen to carbon and hydrogen in fossil resources results in plastics and other general-purpose chemical products.

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is known to be a greenhouse gas and to have harmful effects on the Earth’s environment. However, Professor Kyoko Nozaki has successfully come up with a way to turn that harmful gas into useful plastic.

Plastic is usually made from almost 100 percent petroleum or fossil fuels. If a certain portion of that can be replaced by CO2, not only can the CO2 in the atmosphere be immobilized, but the use of fossil fuels can also be reduced, resulting in a big plus for the Earth’s environment.

Nozaki has created a new type of plastic called polylactone. A unique catalytic technique is used to bind a material called butadiene with CO2. Overall around 30 percent is made from CO2-originated components, which makes it an Earth-friendly plastic.

Furthermore, Nozaki is researching how to change the process of manufacturing chemical products itself. Said Nozaki, “Chemical products such as plastic are almost 100 percent made from fossil resources. From a chemical point of view, we just need to add oxygen to fossil resources made of carbon and hydrogen. In that case, if we take oxygen from a material that has too much of it, the same product can be obtained. Thus, it is theoretically possible to make these chemical products without using fossil resources at all.”

The group is currently working on the development of new chemical reactions that can turn renewable resources such as biomass and CO2 into chemical products. Said Nozaki, “Up till now, research has been only on the process of making chemical products from fossil fuels. However, if the starting material is changed, there must be as yet undiscovered science. By taking up the challenge of a new academic field and establishing a way of making new chemical products that don’t rely on fossil resources, I believe we will be one step closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

SDGs supported by this project

Affordable and clean energyResponsible consumption,productionDecent work and economic growthClimate action

Professor Kyoko Nozaki | Graduate School of Engineering

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