Today’s Solutions: January 21, 2022

Petrochemicals, chemicals made from fossil fuels, are present in an estimated 6,000 products (and probably more), but Bay Area startup Twelve thinks there is a better way to produce these chemicals. And maybe even help the planet while they’re at it.

Rather than sourcing petrochemicals from crude oil, gas, or coal, Twelve is developing technology to make them out of captured carbon in our atmosphere. Nicholas Flanders, co-founder, and CEO tells FastCompany, “They’ll be identical to conventional products [but] made from recycled emissions.”

Using renewable energy, sunlight, water, and captured CO2, the company makes substances like ethylene, a basic ingredient in plastic. Called industrial photosynthesis, the process breaks apart CO2 and water with electricity, and then recombines the atomic substances into new molecules. The basis for the process has been around since the 1960s, but it’s been difficult to scale up until now. The introduction of catalysts to recombine atomic elements makes it far more efficient.

Although many companies, like Unilever, have pledged to remove petrochemicals from their products, it is unlikely we will see a world without plastic in the near future. Twelve recognizes this and believes that while there is still a market for these materials, the least we can do is source them in a way that removes carbon emissions from the atmosphere and does not require the sourcing of new fossil fuels.

As we move away from plastics, the company is confident there will be other markets for their technology. They are working with Mercedes-Benz to produce CO2-based car parts and are also developing carbon-negative jet fuel for the airline industry.

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