A Montpellier startup wants to turn carbon dioxide into… bio-based plastic

It was in 2020 that the technology transfer acceleration company (SATT) AxLR, in Montpellier, identified the project developed inside ofand the European Membrane Institute (IEM), a research laboratory under the supervision of the Eschool national superior of Chemistry from Montpellier (ENSCM)of🇧🇷University of Montpellier and CNRS. Damien Voiry, a young researcher in nanomaterials chemistry at CNRS since 2016, is working there on a complex process aimed at transforming CO2 by electrolysis.

Looking for innovations from the research community to🇧🇷supporting its technological development within the scope of the Investment Program for the Future (PIA), SATT quickly supported the project in the amount of 315,000 euros. Between 2020 and 2022, three patents are filed, relating to several versions of a catalyst, composed of a thin layer of metals and which allows the conversion of CO2 into ethylene by an electrolysis process. It is about taking advantage of the problematic waste that constitutes carbon dioxide and using electricity, if possible from renewable energies (ENR), to convert it to ethylene. Often obtained from fossil fuels, ethylene is a gas used to produce polyethylene, the most common plastic material.

In short, the process developed by Damien Voiry’s team uses CO2 from the air to extract a that makes it possible, at the end of the chain, to manufacture synthetic fibers of biological origin that will be used in the production of bags plastic, PVC joinery or clothing.

CO2 negative emission technologies

Things are accelerating in 2022 with the spring arrival of the person who will lead the startup supported by scientific innovation. An Italian based in France for ten years, Alfonso Morriello has a solid experience in the business world, first in traditional energy, before becoming interested in innovation and new energies. In 2011, for example, he co-founded Axegaz, a start-up specializing in the distribution of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and bio-LNG.

According to him, the innovation resulting from Damien Voiry’s research is in line with the needs of the energy sector.

🇧🇷 I immediately saw your positioning in the market, petrochemicals with a big problem of decarbonization, Explain Afonso Morriello🇧🇷 It also gives the possibility to decarbonise industries that emit a lot of CO2 for chemical reasons, such as cement or glass factories, and need technologies with negative CO2 emissions. 🇧🇷

For now, the project is in the prototype phase: a first production machine🇧🇷andethylandne, was assembled last September inside the IEM to perform tests there.

🇧🇷 We gives the next eighteen months to make improvements and solve problems, and by 2024, we should be able to produce a 2nd version of the machine capable of satisfying the needs of industrialists », Details the future CEO.

The startup should be created at the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023. This will be followed by an initial fundraising of between 2 and 10 million euros from private investors but also from French and European public funds.

He This will include strengthening the team to design a full-size machine capable of running at an industrial site in🇧🇷horizon 2025.

green indicators

🇧🇷 We must improve performance, integrate improvements and above all aim to have a demonstrator with a substantial size, 100 times larger than the prototype built, this is really one of the challenges of the project, says Afonso Morriello. So it will likely take at least one to two years before commercial development. We still have technological barriers to overcome: although our technology is the best available, it must be optimized for industrialization🇧🇷 Our goal is to have a marketable solution that allows us to industrially produce hydrolysis cells (Where hydrolysis cell, editor’s note) allowing CO2 to be used to produce ethylene. 🇧🇷

It should be noted that 500 million tons of plastic are produced annually, which corresponds to 1.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions, or 3 to 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions. 150 million tons of ethylene are also sold each year worldwide.

But Alfonso Morriello remains cautious: “ We are market dependent, so we must make sure that the market and the industrialists in the sector are ready. Our technology does not capture CO2, but for two years there has been a lot of investment in “carbon capture” technologies, which is a good sign. We also have a significant need for green electricity, but the increase in renewable energy production is phenomenal. In addition, manufacturers are already communicating about manufacturing products from CO2 emissions. Today, all our indicators are green 🇧🇷