Incorporating Biorenewable CO2 into Polymerization Processes

The plastics industry is probably one of the leading manufacturing industries in the United States. Plastics are utilized in products that range from food packaging to automotive parts. The rapidly increasing volume of plastic, its production costs, the heavy use of exhaustible resources and its environmental impacts has recently caused a certain concern. Presently, a large amount of volatile chemicals and fossil fuels are required to create synthetic plastics.

It has been estimated that plastic production accounts between 5 to 10% of the worldwide oil and gas consumption. The increasing costs of oil and fossil fuel along with the introduction of cheap plastic from Middle Eastern producers is forcing the industry to reduce the production costs in the short term.

Some of the advantages of plastic include its strength, light weight, durability, and resistance to degradation. These however, are often also considered its “environmental” weaknesses. Millions of tons of plastic end up in landfills every year. Their incineration and disposal is causing ecological issues. Hence, biodegradable and recyclable polymers are recently attracting a lot of interest.

CO2 as Cost-Effective Bio-renewable Resource

A very promising alternative to the fossil fuel intensive method of manufacturing plastics involves capturing CO2 from industrial waste and converting it into a major component of the final product. Using CO2 as a cost-effective, bio-renewable resource can potentially solve a number of problems associated with plastics production. Research is now pushing towards capturing CO2 and using it as a bio-renewable resource in industrial applications.

The catalytic coupling of CO2 and epoxides to generate carbonates or polycarbonates has proved to be a very promising technology in the utilization of CO2 as a major component in a wide variety of plastic products. Classes of zinc-based catalysts have been specifically developed to allow this chemical reaction taking place in less time, at low pressures and temperature and with the use of less fossil fuel.

Manufacturing biodegradable, cost-effective plastics while reusing captured waste CO2 as a feedstock might soon become a reality. The low cost and accessibility of CO2, the attractive properties of polycarbonates and the public interest in producing environmentally friendly plastics, have stimulated the scientific interest in developing new catalysts for the polymerization process.

Research scientists need techniques that cannot only characterize adsorbents for CO2 sorption and separation, but also assist with the design of new classes of catalysts developed for the CO2 polymerization process. A better understanding of the surface area, total pore volume, and pore size distribution are essential factors to be taken into account for quality control of industrial adsorbents and for developing separation processes.

Chemical Adsorption Analysis

The porosity and the characteristics of the surface area determine the selectivity of an adsorbent. Optimum design and effective utilization of catalysts require a complete understanding of the pore structure, surface structure, and surface chemistry of the active material.

Chemical adsorption analysis, or chemisorption, offers the information required to evaluate the catalyst materials in the design and production phases as well as during their actual use. The pore structure and active area of catalysts influence considerably the production rates. The design of supported and recoverable polymerization catalysts is a very complicated process possessing demanding requirements. The pore structure of the support influences the transport of the reactants to and of the polymers away from the active sites.

Micromeritics Accelerated Surface and Porosimetry Systems

Since 1962, Micromeritics has supplied analytical tools to offer such information. Micromeritics comprehensive line of research includes gas adsorption instruments, such as the ASAP 2020 Plus and ASAP 2425 Accelerated Surface and Porosimetry Systems, can be used to characterize adsorbent surface area and porosity. Micromeritics ASAP 2020 Plus and AutoChem II 2920 can conduct a comprehensive array of high-precision chemical adsorption and temperature-programmed reaction studies, respectively.

Catalytic activity is analyzed by measuring the amounts and types of reactive gas adsorbed. The gas volume and the understanding of the reaction stoichiometry are utilised to determine active surface area, dispersion, surface acidity and size of crystallites. Micromeritics AutoPore Mercury Porosimeter uses mercury intrusion to determine total pore volume, pore size distribution, percent porosity, density, and transport characteristics.


In the near future, plastic materials may retain their advantages without the current ecological downside. By using scientific developments in CO2 capture and its integration into the polymerization process, plastics may become a ‘green’ consumable. Micromeritics expertise along with its innovative materials characterization instrumentation will help providing the requirements needed to develop environmentally friendly plastics.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Micromeritics Instrument Corporation.

For more information on this source, please visit Micromeritics Instrument Corporation.


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