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innovation | An amazing way to improve the environmental footprint of plastic

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Modern societies use huge amounts of plastic, most of which is made from raw materials from the refining of natural gas or oil. 390.7 million tons of new plastic are produced worldwide each year, and each kilogram produced results in the emission of two kilograms of greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide equivalent.2.

Thus the carbon footprint of the annual manufacturing of plastics is 65.5% greater Of that generated by the annual consumption of gasoline in the United States. There are bioplastics that can reduce this carbon footprint, but they are relatively expensive and currently only have specialized applications. In theory, many plastics can be recycled, but the reality is that only a small percentage of this potential is being realized. A lot of plastic ends up in landfill or, worse, the “end of life” scenario. There is no silver bullet for solving problems of waste and carbon emissions, and multiple strategies will need to be applied.

However, the truth is that plastics are not going away, as they play many important roles. So we must find a way to meet these needs, while reducing the impact associated with producing virgin plastic. A very encouraging solution was presented at COP27 in Egypt. It significantly reduces the carbon footprint of many plastic items and reduces the use of virgin plastic by more than half, without compromising functionality or economy. It would be fair to say that this strategy is “ripping” because it literally involves some kind of sedimentary stone. It is being marketed by a private startup called Okeanos®under the brand Made of Stone™.

The principle is as follows: 50 to 70% of the petrochemical resin from a plasticizer is replaced by a proprietary formula of calcium carbonate, a naturally abundant and renewable mineral that can be found all over the world and is the active component of limestone. Calcium carbonate is also the source of 97% of eggshells and seashells. When a product is made from a high proportion of these materials, the effective carbon footprint is reduced by over 50%! The concept of making lightweight, flexible plastic items out of stone is definitely counterintuitive, and the fact that it could be a “plug and play” solution at no extra cost almost seems too good to be true. That’s why Okeanos® did years of development work with potential clients before the full story was released.

Calcium carbonate has long been used in plastics, but only at 10 to 15%. In 2012, Mary Lerter, former materials scientist at Proctor & Gamble, has patented a form of finely ground calcium carbonate, of a specific size and shape, which is treated with proprietary additives to facilitate processing. When calcium carbonate and additives are “bundled” with less resin, this material can reduce the amount of virgin plastic used to make the product by 50-70%. This process can be performed on existing manufacturing equipment to manufacture a product with the same or more functionality. The only limitation is that a completely transparent product cannot be made with this amount of calcium carbonate. Okeanos® is actively working to reduce the remaining part of the plastic in the product by using binders and other additives. Currently, Made from Stone™ products can be formulated for three end-of-life scenarios: they can be made compliant with most recycling standards, they can be made biodegradable through the use of an additive, or they may represent a less toxic and low-impact product if disposed of in a landfill Waste.

Okeanos® co-founded by Florencio Cuetara, whose family owns a Spanish snack packaging company. Florencio Cutara was motivated by the problems associated with plastic, especially after seeing a bag made by his company while doing his hobby, scuba diving, in the Mediterranean. the other founder Dr. Ross PetrieOriginally from South Africa, Florencio Cuétara shares his passion for the sea, having worked as an orthopedic surgeon for the Los Angeles Chargers replacing ligaments with calcium carbonate and Florencio Cuétara’s wife was one of his patients. They heard about Mary Lerter’s patent, stole it in 2018, and brought her aboard their ship as Vice President of Innovation Operation.

The business model they are pursuing is to work with OMYA, the leading producer of industrial materials, to gain access to their global calcium carbonate network. Then they identified processing partners, region by region, to supply it in the form of pellets that plastic manufacturers could replace with the virgin plastic they had on hand. This reduces the environmental footprint associated with transportation and engages local workers. They research collaboratively with potential customers to determine the maximum percentage of calcium carbonate and other formulation details that will work with their existing extrusion or forming equipment. Several companies that tested the Made from Stone™ option found that it saves 5-10% in energy because the new blend melts at a lower temperature.

Replacing plastics with calcium carbonate works on a variety of plastic items ranging from flexible films and hangers to food packaging and industrial applications such as agricultural films and rigids. Because the technology allows for a proven reduction of the CO2 footprint2Okeanos® created the QR Code and corresponding accounts in the Lifecycle Analysis Tool to help players small and large incorporate this climate action into their marketing programs. For example, the first commercial application of Coagronortea cooperative of 545 Colombian rice farmers who wanted to improve the packaging footprint of their brand of rice aruz zuliagiving farmers access to sustainable technologies that they couldn’t achieve on their own.

The company also works with manufacturers of wrappers used in sandwiches and burgers, which will soon be available in major fast food outlets around the world. The development process is also underway with many of the largest plastics manufacturers. One of the challenges for Made from Stone™ is prioritizing the long list of new applications to explore. One was chosen: agricultural fabrics, which act as a barrier against weeds, promote water conservation and clean crops like strawberries. Made from Stone™ is working with the Agricultural Research Institute IMIDA in Spain to develop a slow degradation process that will also “break down” soil to improve pH.

By the end of 2023, Okeanos® hopes to take their place 25,000 tons of petrochemical resins In month. By 2025, the goal is replacement 2.5 million tons each generalThe ultimate goal is to remove one gigaton of carbon dioxide2 of the plastics manufacturing process.

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Stephen Savage

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