Novomer carbon dioxide-based plastics
Polycarbonate plastics made from carbon dioxide
Novomer’s plastics are made with conventional petroleum feedstock, but they only use about half the amount that typical plastic manufacturing requires. The other half is carbon dioxide. The use of a gas to make a solid may seem counter-intuitive, but carbon dioxide shares one fundamental characteristic with petroleum: carbon. Novomer’s process extracts carbon molecules from carbon dioxide, which can be harvested from industrial processes rather than, say, from tar sands or deep-ocean wells. Currently Novomer’s preferred sources are industrial fermentation processes where the waste gas is fairly pure, such as ammonia production or ethanol refining.
Photosynthetic organisms have found a life-friendly route to producing a wide range of complex, polymeric compounds such as polysaccharides and proteins. Solar energy drives a cyclic system that draws carbon from atmospheric CO2. Carbon dioxide doesn't share its carbon atom easily, so nature devised the rubisco enzyme to coax carbon dioxide into bonding with the carbon atom of an organic molecule. This key step of the Calvin Cycle produces the building block from which all other carbon-based compounds in photosynthetic organisms are produced.
Cornell University Chemistry Professor Geoffrey Coates took inspiration from the rubisco enzyme and the Calvin Cycle. The result is a mimic of rubisco's reaction center which bonds carbon dioxide to a natural epoxide (limonene oxide) derived from limonene oil, the major compound found in oils of citrus fruit peels.