These companies turn greenhouse gases into cash

A few business owners think that turning carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into products makes more sense than sequestering the gases, at a cost, in depleted oil and gas fields.

Capturing carbon dioxide from industrial facilities and storing it underground has been pursued for more than a decade as a way to mitigate global warming. More than 20 such large-scale projects exist around the world, according to Global CCS Institute.

But a newer approach promises not only an environmental benefit — less harmful gas released into the atmosphere — but also an economic gain. “We can take something that’s waste and turn it into something that’s profit,” said Joe Jones, founder of Skyonic.

Skyonic’s chemical process transforms CO2 into three products — baking soda, hydrochloric acid and bleach — by using electricity to create a reaction between carbon dioxide, water and rock salt. It also removes other pollutants from emissions. The company’s first facility captures about 15 percent of the CO2 emissions from a cement plant in San Antonio.

Infographic explaining CO2 capture-and-conversion process using rock salt (Skyonic Corp.)
(Skyonic Corp.)

Another company — Newlight Technologies — converts methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into plastics that can be used in items like chairs, food containers, automotive parts or cases for cellphones.

The basic technology to do this has been known for years, but has been considered too expensive. But childhood friends Mark Herrema, who studied chemistry, and Kenton Kimmel, a biomedical engineer, started Newlight Technologies in 2003 to lower the cost. After 10 years of experimenting, they came up with a bioconversion technology that makes end products less expensive and more climate-friendly than oil-based plastics. Today, Newlight has more than 60 clients from among Fortune 500 companies, according to the company’s website.

Other companies that use greenhouse gas emissions as a raw material include LanzaTech, which employs microbes to produce fuels and chemicals; Liquid Light, which produces chemicals for consumer goods through electrochemical processes; and Novomer, which synthesizes sustainable chemicals and materials. Novomer works with Ford Motor Company to develop foams and plastics for its vehicles. Researchers continue to look for more commercial uses for CO2.