Scientists have been searching since the 1970s for an efficient way to use carbon dioxide to create affordable plastic that is less harmful to the environment. Novomer, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, has developed a process that promises to do just that. The process uses a proprietary cobalt-based catalyst to bond carbon dioxide recaptured from ethanol manufacturing plants to epoxides derived from oil and natural gas. The resulting material requires half as much fossil fuel as traditional plastics, replacing the fossil fuel with carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the environment. It is also free of BPA, a carcinogen found in some plastic. Novomer is partnering with large consumer-goods companies to make soda bottles, shampoo bottles, and other packaging, which CEO Jim Mahoney expects to appear in stores in the next two years.

Strange brew

The pellets, a mixture of epoxides and carbon dioxide, can be heated and formed into plastic.