Production of Sustainable Polyethylene based on carbon captured from industrial waste gas

Lanzatech, TotalEnergies and L’Oréal have developed an innovative solution to reduce the carbon footprint of Polyethylene (PE). They have achieved a world first in producing the very first packaging made of sustainable PE using captured and recycled carbon emissions. The aim of this project is to scale up the production of this sustainable PE and thereby reduce the amount of plastic made from fossil fuels.

Main project's drivers for reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

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Energy sobriety and resources

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Energy decarbonization

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Improved energy efficiency

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Improved efficiency in the use of non-energy resources

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Emission removal

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Financing low-carbon issuers or disinvestment from carbon assets

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Reduction of other greenhouse gases emission

Project objectives

The objective is to provide Polyethylene (PE) users with a “drop-in” solution that is a perfect substitute (in terms of mechanical performance, food safety approval, etc.) for conventional fossil fuel-based PE while reducing considerably its environmental footprint (LCA). PE carbon footprint reduction will come from substitution of fossil oil by a less carbon intensive feedstock.

TotalEnergies’ Polymers activity has fully committed to taking on this challenge by innovating to reduce the carbon footprint of its products, particularly polyethylene (PE), by using feedstocks other than fossil oil. With this in mind, TotalEnergies worked with L’Oréal and Lanzatech, both players in the value chain, to develop this ambitious project. The first major deliverable of this world premiere involved a pilot-scale proof of concept of the very first sustainable packaging produced from captured and recycled carbon emissions.

 

The ultimate objective of this project is the industrial production of PE from ethanol, obtained via a biotech process based on the bacterial fermentation industrial waste gas. To achieve this, TotalEnergies is using an innovative dehydration process developed with IFP-EN and Axens to transform ethanol into ethylene, which is then polymerized to turn it into a PE that has all the technical specificities of its fossil fuel-based counterpart.

 

The aim of the project is to implement a value chain, from the ethanol obtained from recycled carbon produced by a variety of sources (including waste gas from the industry) to the marketing of PE made from this feedstock.

 

It will enable us to propose plastics that are just as effective and more sustainable than fossil fuel-based solutions, and that fit into a circular economy, including the recycling of the product obtained.

 

The realization of the pilot-scale proof of concept was a key element, to demonstrate the technological feasibility of the dehydration process needed to transform the ethanol into polymer-quality ethylene.

 

This innovation paves the way for carbon capture and recycling to produce materials (PE) thereby avoiding industrial waste gas and the use of fossil resources. In addition, this PE is perfectly recyclable at the end of its lifecycle via existing and well-established schemes, meaning that it fits into a complete circular value chain.

Emission scope(s)

on which the project has a significant impact

  • Emission scopes
  • Description and quantification of associated GHG emissions
  • Clarification on the calculation

Scope 1

Direct emissions generated by the company's activity.

Scope 2

Indirect emissions associated with the company's electricity and heat consumption.

Scope 3

Emissions induced (upstream or downstream) by the company's activities, products and/or services in its value chain.

Emission Removal

Carbon sinks creation, (BECCS, CCU/S, …)

Avoided Emissions

Emissions avoided by the activities, products and/or services in charge of the project, or by the financing of emission reduction projects.

Scopes 1 and 2 - Standard ethylene production
process is replaced by a
process based on the
dehydration of recycled carbon
based ethanol.
The Fossil fuel-based ethylene
coming from a naphtha cracker
is replaced by the ethylene
produced in a dehydration unit
using recycled carbon based
ethanol as a feedstock. The
polyethylene production stage
remains the same whatever the
source of the ethylene.

  • CO2 savings: 0.44 tCO2/t of
    ethylene produced
    (i.e. up to 44 ktCO2/year
    depending on the size of the
    final project).
    See above.

Scopes 3 et Emissions avoided - The polyethylene made from
recycled carbon-based ethanol
has a lower carbon footprint
(cradle to gate) than the fossil
fuel-based equivalent it is
replacing.

  • CO2 savings: 3.2 tCO2/t of
    polyethylene
    (i.e. up to 320 ktCO2/year
    depending on the size of the
    final project).

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Key points

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Invested amount

> €100 M (amount estimated based on the conceptual study)

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Starting date of the project

2018

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Project localisation

Belgique

Project maturity level

Prototype laboratory test (TRL 7)

Real life testing (TRL 7-8)

Pre-commercial prototype (TRL 9)

Small-scale implementation

Medium to large scale implementation

Economic profitability of the project (ROI)

Short term (0-3 years)

Middle term (4-10 years)

Long term (> 10 years)

Illustrations of the project

This project could offer an economic and circular outlet to ethanol produced by biotechnology with a twofold benefit: it helps reduce the carbon emissions of certain industrial activities (CCU approach) and it enables the polymer industry to no longer use fossil oil as a raw material to produce polymer. Owing to these prospects, a number of industries could initiate projects to produce ethanol from waste gas and TotalEnergies could use this ethanol as a substitute for conventional feedstocks obtained from fossil oil refining.

The project and its climate impact potential are reproducible provided that:

  • The polymer market for this type of offer continues to be developed and promoted
  • Ethanol feedstocks produced using industrial waste continue to be developed

Three partners are involved in this project:

  • Lanzatech captures industrial carbon emissions and transforms them into ethanol thanks to a unique biological process.
  • TotalEnergies uses an innovative dehydration process developed with the IFP-EN and Axens to transform ethanol into ethylene, which is then polymerized to turn it into a polyethylene that presents all the technical specificities of its fossil fuel-based counterpart.
  • L’Oréal then uses the polyethylene produced to make packaging that has identical properties to that of a conventional polyethylene.

The three partners wish to continue working together to produce sustainable plastic on a larger scale and they welcome anyone else ready to commit to using these new sustainable plastics.

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Contact the company carrying the project :

david.vandewiele@totalenergies.com

TotalEnergies’s other projects :