Could your products and materials be made out of captured greenhouse gases in the future?
This is the ambition of Mark Herrema, CEO and Co-founder of Newlight Technologies said in this week’s Net Hero Podcast.
‘We use two different kinds of microorganisms. One is called a methanotroph and the other one is called a chemoautotroph. These are bacteria. [So] you’ve got a methane eating microorganism and a carbon dioxide eating microorganism.
‘They use those gases as their food source to grow. And as they’re growing, one of the little biomolecules that they make inside of their cells is called PHB.
‘So PHB is a carbon storage material and almost all of life makes this. The human body, plants, animals and these microorganisms make it. And our job then is to separate the non PHB from the rest of the cell mass.
‘And so we separate that PHB and then we dry it and it dries into a fine white powder. Then we feed it into a machine called an extruder, which effectively heats up that powder. It comes out as these long sort of spaghetti strands but they’re really hot.
‘We cool them down and then chop them into pellets. Now that you have it in pellet form, you can use it in ways very similar to plastic.
They’ve copyrighted this process and call it Air Carbon.
He added: ‘so our job over the past 20 years was to mimic these processes that happen in nature and turn greenhouse gasses into useful materials.’
Mark told us that green projects often gets abandoned because of the costs involved with scalability.
‘We are stuck in [a climate crisis]. We have been stuck in this thing and it’s not going nearly fast enough. And everyone just keeps shouting at each other and look, there’s been progress.
‘I love what’s happened in the renewable power space but why is it accelerating? It’s accelerating because costs have dropped. Now, governments have played an important role by helping nudge it along to get to the scale.
‘I think everybody would like to see this problem solved. The challenge is that a lot of times it comes down to economics and that’s a harder nut to crack.’
Mr Herrema said that his product will make the concept of sustainability more tangible.
‘One of the things that we really like about this is democratising carbon impacts. So, for instance, as a consumer, it’s often hard to participate and it is frustrating.
‘On a certain level, you think, what more can I do? And air carbon puts physical products into people’s hands. Greenhouse gas you can hold and you can actually, by the weight of what you’re holding, feel that you’re making a tangible difference.
‘[In places with] landfills, instead of putting that carbon into the air, we should take that gas and we should turn it into useful materials. Hopefully that can create jobs, local revenue streams and help in that way.’
Importantly, Mark said that we need global consensus on climate change.
‘We have to find places of consensus. We have been trying to convince each other of different things for so long.
‘And we’ve got to say, all right, we understand that there are differences on both sides but let’s search for the things that we agree on.
If we can do that, then maybe we can create scalable solutions that can start to make real change at the pace that we need.
‘But there needs to be an increasing amount of consistency in terms of, look, give the entire planet the same rulebook.’
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