Green Methanol: The Future of Packaging Industry

by Mark Stephens
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News - Green Methanol: The Future of Packaging Industry

“Green Methanol” could be the answer to packaging problems in the very near future. In this article I will explore how green methanol is produced and what its benefits are.

Countries from around the world signed the Paris Agreement to keep the rise in global temperature to below 2 °C. To achieve this, countries have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century. However, reviews after reviews show that countries will fail to achieve carbon neutrality because of lack of proper programs and initiatives.

Just like countries from around the world failing to keep up with climate change vows, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies are falling way short of their pledges to boost the use of recycled contents. The 2025 recycling pledges once again appear to be unrealistic and unachievable.

According to various reports, companies that have pledged to use recycled plastic are bound to fail since the current supply of recycled plastics would only meet 6 percent of companies’ demands. So is it possible for companies to fill this humongous gap and keep up with their recycling pledges for 2025? The answer is a positive yes! But, the way to get there is through disruptive transformation measures.

The Fake News Monster

Information overload coupled with misinformation has led populations into believing things that only mislead them and eventually cause unimaginable harm. The packaging industry has been hurt by the fake news industry and misleading social media hype against the use of plastic. Media, be it mainstream or social, has created a fear in people’s hearts about the use of plastic and its negative impact.  

CPGs, in fear of negative publicity, have drifted to various short-term directions. The fear of being targeted by the media has only increased the problems with waste and recycling. Short-term approach is not the answer and will only hinder progress. CPGs need various packaging materials which include plastic for them to grow and thrive.

Short-Term Solutions are Not the Answer

We have already learnt that CPGs have drifted to various short-term solutions. Let us have a quick look at what these solutions are.

  • Compostable solutions
  • Materials that are biodegradable
  • Mono material packaging
  • Alternative methods of packaging such as the use of paper and cans
  • Improving mechanical recycling

These approaches are valuable and can contribute positively towards sustainable packaging but for a limited period only. These short-term solutions used by companies at best can create great news headlines.

Substituting plastic packaging material that can be recycled with alternative materials in the name of sustainable packaging can do more damage than repair. Most alternative packaging materials cannot be recycled multiple times and ultimately fail to address larger environmental issues.

The real solution lies in transforming every kind of waste, not just plastics!

Consortium for Waste to Syngas Circularity 

Visionaries with great insights from the packaging industry, who have understood the futility of the short-term packaging solutions, have created the Consortium for Waste to Syngas Circularity (CWSC).

The CWSC has been created with the goal of creating scientific solutions to packaging waste problems.

Mike Ferrari, Janice Loppe and Jason Vande Loo, in an article published by Plastics Today, wrote, “These early founders of CWSC believe the packaging industry needs a common goal and science-based technical solutions to solve the problem created from all packaging waste.”  

The Covid-19 induced pandemic has increased people’s dependency on e-commerce which in turn has led to more packaging than ever before. However, this has also exposed a huge gap in waste transformation.

The very need to transform waste handling in the long-term has given birth to the Consortium for Waste to Syngas Circularity.

“Its vision is to transform waste handling over the long-term by adding advanced recycling technologies as the backbone of our waste handling solution in the portfolio mix of the packaging industry,” writes Ferrari, Loppe and Loo.

What is the Purpose of CWSC?

The purpose of CWCS states, “We envision a world without waste, in which waste is treated as a valuable resource. We seek to end the practice of landfilling and incineration, favoring processes that support circular economy sustainability. We envision a world where molecules derived from nature’s precious resources can be used and reused in an endless loop of circularity.”

CWCS aims to primarily achieve its purpose by extracting green methanol from various waste materials and integrating it with products and packages. CWCS will use a “science-based waste to syngas to methanol process” to accomplish its mission.

CWCS’ secondary mode of achieving its goal is by aligning various industries “toward a total transformation for all waste, not just plastics.”

What is Green Methanol?

Methanol is an extremely important raw material for construction, plastic and chemical industries. However, the traditional method of production is not particularly green. CWCS’s method of waste to syngas to methanol is a science-based alternative of producing “green methanol.”

In simple words, when methanol is manufactured by using renewable sources such as biomass, the product is called renewable or green methanol. Green methanol may also be produced when the power used in the process of making it is through renewable energy.

Nobel-prize winning chemist, George Olah, first spoke about the possibility of using methanol as opposed to fossil fuels. He believed methanol was a cheaper alternative to hydrogen or ethanol.

How is Methanol produced?

The process of extracting methanol begins by recovering carbon dioxide from biogas and other waste materials. After hydrogen and carbon dioxide are synthesized, methanol is achieved.

CWSC explains, PAG/V technology which produces synthesis gas or “syngas” the following way:

“Plasma Assisted Gasification and Vitrification (PAG/V) systems are an advanced form of gasification that use thermal plasma arc torches to achieve process temperatures in excess of 3,400 °F. At such temperatures, organic chemical bonds are broken, and inorganic materials are melted down. Carbon rich organics are primarily converted into synthesis gas (“syngas”), composed mostly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Metals and inorganic oxides (i.e. glass) are melted down and recovered as ingots and glassy materials.  All products become feedstocks for subsequent value-added commercial applications.”

“Plastics produced from syngas are “virgin plastics” with the same quality and properties of plastics produced from fossil fuels. Waste-syngas-methanol-products/plastics offer a true pathway to circular economy sustainability,” CWCS further explains.

In other words, plastics made from syngas are the future of packaging since they are the true torchbearers of sustainable packaging.

Long-term Solution the Real Key

The key to improving public health and protecting the earth from further damage lies in long-term solutions by the packaging industry. No matter how hard CPGs or Packaging Suppliers try to divert themselves, they will be blamed for the problem in the near future. The entire waste management infrastructure needs to dramatically change with the understanding of what sustainability truly means.

Compostable solutions or the use of biodegradable materials for packaging is really not the future of packaging. “Virgin plastic” made through syngas really holds the key towards a circular solution in the future.

Take a Clue from the Airline industry

Airlines, one of the largest consumers of fossil-based fuel, has committed to being carbon neutral by 2050. Yes you heard that right! But how do they intend to achieve this? The answer lies on a long-term action plan to achieve this impossible sounding goal. The airlines intend to use one of the abundant resources on the planet – HOUSEHOLD GARBAGE!

If you are not already aware, facilities are being set up in the US, UK, Canada, and Europe by Fulcrum BioEnergy to begin with the essential infrastructure.

The packaging industry can definitely take a clue from the airline industry and start working towards converting waste to syngas to green methanol.

Final Words

“Virgin plastic” made from syngas will really change the game for the packaging industry in the very near future. We need to understand the difference between good and bad plastic. Saying no to fossil fuel and yes to green methanol will take us to a cleaner and a greener planet in the future.

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