The New Plastic Era: Denmark's Revolutionary CO2 Conversion

The UC-DC project is revolutionizing the plastic industry by turning CO2, a notorious greenhouse gas, into biodegradable polymers.
Energy & Environment
April 2, 2024

In the ambitiously named UC-DC project (Utilization of Carbon for Decarbonization), a consortium of Danish industrial and academic entities has embarked on a quest to transform carbon dioxide, the notorious greenhouse gas, into something surprisingly benign: biodegradable plastic. "We envision a future where CO2 is transformed from a harmful greenhouse gas into an inexhaustible raw material for producing materials that our society relies upon, in this case plastics. Furthermore, we want to make sure that the solutions are feasible and implementable," elucidates Line Rold Tousgaard, the Project Manager from the Danish Technological Institute.

This collaboration, a fusion of expertise from the Danish Technological Institute, Pond, Again, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability at DTU (DTU Biosustain), is more than a mere academic exercise. It's an effort to pivot the world from its fossil fuel dependency, especially in the plastic production sector, toward a more sustainable future.

At the heart of UC-DC's methodology is the novel concept of gas fermentation. Bacteria are employed as microscopic alchemists, transmuting CO2 into useful acids. "Our gas fermentation process converts CO2 and hydrogen into acetic acid in a one-step carbon capture and utilization process. By combining millennia-old bacteria with cutting-edge biotechnology, this paves the way for novel CO2 derived building blocks that are currently produced from fossil feedstocks," remarks Torbjørn Ølshøj Jensen, CEO of Again, with a palpable enthusiasm for the groundbreaking nature of this venture.

The potential of this project extends beyond the laboratory. The Danish Technological Institute intends to demonstrate the real-world applicability of these innovations by converting the resultant acetic acid into a crucial building block for plastic production. Subsequently, the company Pond will metamorphose this building block into biodegradable polymers, promising a myriad of uses ranging from horticulture to textiles and packaging. "We aim at demonstrating that it is possible to produce high-performing polymer pellets that come from waste carbon feedstocks, in particular CO2. Not only will this be an interesting innovation in itself, but it will also be a promising alternative to building blocks derived from plant material," says Thomas Brorsen Pedersen, CEO of Pond, highlighting the project's revolutionary aspect.

But UC-DC's ambition goes beyond merely producing biodegradable plastics. It seeks to establish a new, fossil-free CCU (carbon capture and utilization) value chain. This involves recycling CO2, captured from the atmosphere or CO2-emitting industries, thereby redefining supply chains and sustainability models. The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability's role is pivotal here, as it plans to evaluate and quantify the scale-up potential through environmental and socio-economic assessments.

The project's success hinges on identifying and overcoming potential barriers along this new value chain. "By identifying the potential barriers across this new value chain, we can focus on how to overcome them and demonstrate a feasible way from source to product. Collaboration along the value chain while being able to evaluate the work-in-progress is the real strength of this partnership," asserts Line Rold Tousgaard.

In essence, the UC-DC project is not just an industrial-academic collaboration. It's a bold reimagining of how society can turn one of its most persistent environmental liabilities into a sustainable asset.

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