Novomer Inc., a sustainable materials company pioneering a family of high-performance polymers and other chemicals from renewable feedstocks such as carbon dioxide (CO2), recently announced a major new application of its catalytic innovations. Poised to disrupt a $20 billion, mature global market, the approach encompasses the sequestration and conversion of carbon dioxide and ethane-rich shale gas into mass market chemicals such as acrylic acid, butanediol and others commonly used in paints, coatings, textiles and diapers.
The initiative is supported by a $5 million dollar Department of Energy (DoE) Grant as part of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI), and a partnership with an industrial gas supplier. The resulting chemicals produced are existing chemical compounds, giving Novomer and its partners the ability to reach pilot scale (2,000 Metric Tons/yr) in 2015, and full commercial scale in 2017. This, in turn, could result in the first US acrylic acid plant built in over 10 years.
Notably, the process being developed by Novomer and the low cost of the feedstocks (waste CO2 and large volume shale gas) could allow US providers to become global low-cost leaders in chemical intermediates and vastly reduce dependencies on crude oil markets. The cost savings could be as large as 20-40% compared to today's technologies, but will depend on the ultimate performance of key techno-economic variables that will be determined as part of the DOE project. Additional potential benefits of Novomer's process include:
Increase energy productivity of chemical manufacturing by 30-70%
Reduce CO2 footprint by 40-110% (depending on target chemical)
Energy savings of over 20 Trillion BTUs per year within 10 years. This is the equivalent of removing 300,000 cars from the road or the energy required for 530,000 homes.
Total sequestration of waste gases with only moderate temperature requirements
The industrial gas supplier will convert waste CO2, obtained from various sources, into CO using an innovative solid oxide electrolysis process. Novomer's catalyst-based process will convert the CO and ethylene oxide from shale gas into acrylic acid and other chemicals. The electrolysis process essentially reverses the operation of a fuel cell. The technology leverages investments made to date by the government and private sector in fuel cell materials and manufacturing.
This effort follows closely on the heels of another Novomer's CO2 platform milestone. Earlier this year, Novomer achieved the first large-scale manufacturing run of polypropylene carbonate (PPC) polyol. The company's innovations in cleaner, higher performing and more cost effective materials and chemicals have generated substantial interest from governments and global partners.
Novomer's innovation comprises two primary platforms: one that combines a traditional chemical feedstock such as a fossil fuel with CO2 to create more environmentally friendly and higher performing materials; the other that combines an ethane-based feedstock (ethylene oxide) with CO to create value-added chemicals that deliver significant reductions in product costs and energy.