CO2-Based Polymers and Plastics

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

CO2-based polymers and plastics represent a groundbreaking shift in materials science, utilizing captured carbon dioxide (CO2) as a key building block for creating a variety of polymers and plastics. This innovative approach reduces reliance on fossil fuels as feedstocks for plastic production, mitigating CO2 emissions and promoting a more sustainable and circular economy.

Impact on climate action

CO2-Based Polymers and Plastics offer a game-changing solution within the C2V framework, converting greenhouse gases into valuable materials. This innovation significantly reduces carbon emissions by repurposing CO2 into sustainable products, fostering a circular economy. Its adoption accelerates climate action by mitigating pollution and minimizing reliance on fossil fuels.


The production of CO2-based polymers and plastics leverages several key technologies and concepts:

  • CO2 Copolymerization: CO2 is incorporated into the polymer chain alongside other monomers (the building blocks of polymers) through chemical reactions, creating a new type of polymer with unique properties.
  • Polycarbonate Synthesis: CO2 can be directly reacted with epoxides (cyclic ethers) to produce polycarbonates, a versatile class of plastics known for their strength, transparency, and heat resistance.
  • CO2-Derived Monomers: CO2 can be converted into various monomers, such as ethylene and propylene, which are then used in the production of traditional plastics, reducing the need for fossil fuel-derived feedstocks.
  • Bio-Based Catalysts: Researchers are developing bio-based catalysts, such as enzymes, that can efficiently drive CO2 conversion reactions for polymer synthesis, enhancing the sustainability of the process.

TRL : 4-7 (depending on the specific technology and product)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Novel Polymerization Techniques: Scientists are exploring new and more efficient methods for incorporating CO2 into polymers, including using electrocatalysis and photocatalysis, to reduce energy consumption and improve yields.
  • Tailored Polymer Properties: Research focuses on tailoring the properties of CO2-based polymers to meet specific applications, such as creating biodegradable plastics or high-performance materials.
  • Life Cycle Analysis and Optimization: Scientists are conducting life cycle analyses to assess the environmental impact of CO2-based polymers and plastics throughout their production, use, and disposal, aiming to optimize the sustainability of the entire process.
  • Closed-Loop Recycling: Developing technologies and infrastructure for closed-loop recycling of CO2-based plastics is crucial for achieving a truly circular economy.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • CO2 Copolymerization Advancements
  • Direct Polycarbonate Synthesis
  • Conversion of CO2 into Monomers
  • Electrocatalytic Polymerization Techniques
  • Tailored Properties for Applications
  • Biodegradable CO2-Based Plastics
  • High-Performance Material Development
  • Environmental Impact Optimization
  • Closed-Loop Recycling Technologies
  • CO2-Based Polymer Commercialization
  • Renewable Carbon Feedstocks
  • Sustainable Plastic Production
  • Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU)
  • Carbon Footprint Reduction Strategies
  • Polymerization Energy Efficiency
  • CO2-Based Polymer Market Trends

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Newlight Technologies:
    • Technology Focus: Newlight Technologies specializes in converting greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, into high-performance polymers and plastics. They utilize a proprietary carbon capture and utilization process, transforming carbon emissions into a material called AirCarbon.
    • Uniqueness: Newlight’s innovation lies in their ability to address both environmental concerns and the demand for sustainable materials by turning a pollutant into a valuable resource. Their AirCarbon material offers a carbon-negative alternative to traditional plastics.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include industries that prioritize sustainability and are seeking eco-friendly alternatives to conventional plastics, such as packaging, textiles, consumer goods, and automotive.
  • Covestro:
    • Technology Focus: Covestro is a global leader in polymer solutions, including the development of CO2-based polymers. They have been researching and developing innovative ways to incorporate carbon dioxide into their production processes to create more sustainable materials.
    • Uniqueness: Covestro’s uniqueness lies in its extensive experience and expertise in polymer chemistry, allowing them to integrate CO2-based monomers into their existing product lines while maintaining high performance and quality standards.
    • End-User Segments: Covestro serves a wide range of industries, including automotive, construction, electronics, and healthcare, providing sustainable solutions tailored to each sector’s specific needs.
    • Technology Focus: NOVOMER specializes in producing high-performance polymers and chemicals from renewable feedstocks, including carbon dioxide. Their proprietary technology enables the conversion of CO2 into various chemical building blocks for polymer synthesis.
    • Uniqueness: NOVOMER stands out for its versatile platform technology, which allows for the production of a wide range of CO2-based polymers and chemicals with customizable properties. Their solutions offer a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based materials.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include industries that require specialty polymers and chemicals, such as coatings, adhesives, composites, and personal care products, where performance and sustainability are key considerations.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Cornell University:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Cornell University are pioneering methods to convert CO2 into high-value polymers and plastics through innovative chemical processes. They are exploring catalyst design and reaction engineering techniques to efficiently utilize CO2 as a feedstock for polymer synthesis.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Cornell’s approach involves the development of novel catalysts and reaction pathways tailored specifically for CO2 utilization in polymer production. They are also investigating the integration of renewable energy sources to drive these CO2 conversion processes, aiming for sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
    • End-use Applications: The CO2-based polymers and plastics developed at Cornell University have diverse applications, including packaging materials, automotive components, and construction materials. By utilizing CO2 as a feedstock, these materials offer a sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics, contributing to carbon emissions reduction.
  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Technology Enhancements: UC Berkeley researchers are advancing the field of CO2-based polymer synthesis by leveraging cutting-edge materials science and polymer chemistry techniques. They are developing scalable methods to convert CO2 into functional polymers with tailored properties.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s research focuses on the design of CO2-responsive polymers that exhibit unique stimuli-responsive behaviors, such as self-healing and shape-memory capabilities. These innovative materials hold promise for applications in smart packaging, drug delivery systems, and flexible electronics.
    • End-use Applications: The CO2-based polymers and plastics developed at UC Berkeley have applications across various industries, including healthcare, electronics, and consumer goods. By harnessing CO2 as a raw material, these materials contribute to the circular economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting resource efficiency.
  • RWTH Aachen University:
    • Technology Enhancements: RWTH Aachen University is at the forefront of CO2-to-value research, focusing on the development of catalytic processes for the synthesis of CO2-based polymers and plastics. They are optimizing reaction conditions and catalyst compositions to enhance the efficiency and selectivity of CO2 conversion.
    • Uniqueness of Research: RWTH Aachen’s research integrates fundamental studies on catalyst design and characterization with applied research on polymer synthesis and processing. They are exploring novel reactor configurations and process intensification strategies to enable cost-effective and sustainable production of CO2-based materials.
    • End-use Applications: The CO2-based polymers and plastics developed at RWTH Aachen University have potential applications in a wide range of sectors, including automotive, aerospace, and packaging industries. These materials offer lightweight, durable, and environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional plastics, contributing to the transition towards a circular economy.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Several companies are beginning to commercialize CO2-based polymers and plastics, although large-scale production is still limited.

  • Newlight Technologies: Their AirCarbon bioplastic is being used in various products, including packaging for brands like Dell and Sprint.
  • Covestro: They have launched a pilot plant in Germany to produce CO2-based polyols for polyurethane foams.