Neofossils: bio-based plastics to sequester CO2

Drinks reception and nibbles in Holder Common Room (5:30-7pm). Booking deadline: 5pm, Friday 15 December 2023.

We have recently been focussed on a circular economy for polymers, but came to the conclusion that we need to turn the problem on its head. Make more single use plastic, but using C fixed by photosynthesis taken from the atmosphere this year, not millennia ago. Neo-carbon, not fossil-carbon, to make into plastic and keep it safe – through incorporation in our infrastructure or through curated burial.

Bio-based plastics from agricultural waste become sustainable when produced using renewable energy, not the current energy mix of >70% fossil energy. Life cycle assessment can identify the tipping point, as the energy system defossilises, when making durable bio-based plastics makes sense. COP27 aimed to ‘keep 1.5 oC alive’ by removing 12 billion tonnes of CO2 per year ( >25% of current emissions), yet there are no scalable technologies to do this.

Plastics consumption could be a good thing, maintaining the environmental benefits of plastic (eg reduced food waste). The petrochemicals industry could continue to benefit from its capital assets, leaving the oil underground, with a new income stream from carbon sequestration. We could durable (ie nondegradable) bioplastics to sequester carbon. Taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, we could bury that plastic. In fact, if we converted all the current 300 million tonnes of annual plastic production to non-degradable, fossil-identical, bioplastics, using 100% renewable energy and agricultural waste as the feedstock, we would be able to remove 1 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

I will present the evidence to support a new plastics economy to deliver neofossils and remove CO2 from the atmosphere.