The biggest plastic polluter globally, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), has invested in a new project at Swansea University which seeks to convert carbon emissions into ethylene, a key component in plastic.

Researchers will consider whether ethylene can be produced using captured CO2, removed from the atmosphere. If successful, the process could eventually replace steam cracking, the process of breaking down hydrocarbons through refining petroleum or natural gas.  

Ethylene is a key component in plastics including high-density polyethylene, the material used for Coca-Cola’s bottle caps. According to The Global Carbon Project, the process of manufacturing ethylene produced over 260 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2020, constituting almost 1% of global emissions.

The project is funded through CCEP Ventures (CCEPV), the innovation investment fund looking to drive sustainability in line with the company’s goal to reach net zero by 2040.

Of the new project, Head of CCEP Ventures Craig Twyford said: “Through Ventures, we are committed to seeking out and funding solutions that will build a better future for our business, communities and the planet. If scaled, this technology could impact both our fossil fuel use and carbon emissions and help to accelerate a low-carbon future for CCEP.”

CCEPV’s previous investments include a recent partnership with the Peidong Yang Research Group at the University of California, Berkeley. The group is seeking to convert captured CO2 into sugar and received a CO2 challenge grant from NASA in 2019, ahead of its mission to Mars in 2024. The ability to convert carbon into glucose has implications for Martian explorers, who might be able to successfully manufacture products from the planet’s atmosphere.

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GlobalData analysis of filings made by CCEPV since 2016 reveals a significant shift towards environmental concerns, with 2023 set to see a massive spike. The trend follows the launch of CCEP’s sustainability initiative, This is Forward, in 2017, with ESG seeing particular growth in this time.

The project will primarily be concerned with the development of an efficient CO2-to-ethylene process. On completion, CCEP will consider the possibility of scaling up the process, with the goal being to use carbon dioxide from the air near its factories or its own smoke stacks.

Professor Enrico Andreoli, Head of Chemical Engineering at Swansea University and Principal Investigator of the project, said: “We take a practical approach in our research focusing specifically on sustainable applications, and fossil-free ethylene production is certainly a key one.

 “We build upon our strong background and expertise in carbon dioxide conversion and with the support of CCEP Ventures, our common goal of delivering low-carbon sustainable plastic can become a reality.”

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