MANY thanks to Linda for supplying the transcript for these videos!
[0:00] news clips: “Well it’s a simple idea with big potential, turning polluted air into actual products that most of us will use every day.”
“Absolutely! Here in a Southern California plastics factory you are NOT gonna imagine WHERE this comes from. Just wait until you see this story.”
“We connect to a Newlight through our technology innovation funnel at Dell . . . who’s doing, of all things, making plastic out of carbon in the air. It almost seemed like it was too good to be true.”
[0:26] Thunderf00t: WOW. So the solution to global warming is here:
[0:31] clip from “Plastic made from air may help solve carbon emissions crisis” (CBS): “This building in Costa Mesa, California, looks unremarkable. And what’s happening inside sounds unreal.”
“So that’s plastic? That was literally made out of thin air?”
“We would be breathing this right now.”
[0:46] Thunderf00t: A way of turning carbon in the air into plastic. And the GREAT thing is, it’s gonna be CHEAPER than regular plastic. And it’s been featured on USA Today, The Guardian, The Weather Channel, CBS, and of course, Fox News, and the computer company, Dell, is promoting this AMAZING new technology, hard—so it can’t be complete bullshit. Right? I mean surely, someone must have fact-checked this. Right?
[1:16] So, firstly they claim that they’re gonna be making this plastic out of exhaust gases:
[1:21] clip from The Weather Channel: “-supposed to be a big game-changer for climate change, and Dave, you were telling us earlier about how they take the carbon out of the atmosphere and turn into plastic. How exactly do they do that, and Stephen our producer said, ‘well, why don’t they just hook up kind of a vacuum to, you know—smokestacks—and just get it right like that?’
[1:38] Thunderf00t: Well, that’s great. So now we know what we’re talking about: carbon dioxide.
[1:43] clip from The Weather Channel: “Yeah, that would be the way to do that. And they ARE doing that. In the future they hope to get it from a concentrated source. Right now they’re taking it from the air and they’re taking it from concentrated sources. But everything you see here—the cups, the bag, the plates—even, in fact, the chair that I’m sitting on right now, it’s all made from this plastic that comes from the air, and it’s one man’s dream.”
[2:07] Thunderf00t: And here’s their CEO saying that, just like trees take carbon dioxide out of the air:
[2:13] clips from Weather Channel, Dell: “pull Southern California’s polluted air from the roof and make something with all that carbon coming from cars, power plants, and farms.”
“Plants do this every single day. The way a tree grows is by pulling carbon out of the air.”
“Every single thing that you see that’s green—that’s ALL produced by pulling carbon out of the air. So we do precisely the same thing. It’s all around us. We just found a way to pull it out of an airstream and then turn it into a plastic molecule, and that plastic molecule we can then turn into shapes and things like that.”
“The environmental impact has the potential impact to be massive.”
[2:47] Thunderf00t: Yeah, that’s mostly right. Trees take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere AND water and a load of energy from the sun, and turn that into sugar—which is then polymerized to make things like cellulose, which is essentially wood.
[3:03] Now, plants GET that energy from the SUN. They are solar powered. Where’s he gonna get his energy from? Solar Roadways [LOL] , thorium-powered cars? Because the one place he can’t get it from is burning fossil fuels, ‘cos that would dump about as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as he’s going to be sequestering.
[3:24] As of rough chemical compositions, most plastics are basically petroleum-based polymers. And their chemical composition is basically that of oil; which is approximately this:
[3:37] Sugars and their polymers, which is cellulose, make up things like wood. And can, at a simple chemical composition-level be looked at as partially combusted hydrocarbon. That is, IF you could simply transform these petroleum-based polymers into wood, it would release a load of energy. And then of course you can simply finish off that oxidation in a very simple manner just by burning wood, which everyone knows releases a load of heat. I mean, it’s basically turning wood, into carbon dioxide, water, and a load of energy; effectively reversing what photosynthesis did in the first place.
[4:16] But energy is conserved here. There are no free lunches. If you wanna turn that carbon dioxide back into wood, you gotta put a load of energy in from somewhere and it will cost you AT LEAST as much energy as you got out from burning it in the first place.
[4:34] And the same thing is true if you’re trying to turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon-based plastics. WHERE is this energy going to come from?
[4:46] Secondly of course, this would just be a drop in the ocean. I mean from my last video you’ll recall that humans breathe out about 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide per day. That’s just your carbon footprint for being alive. And then you have all these people from CBS just gasping with awe at how someone has maybe sequestered 50 or so grams of carbon in a cellphone cover:
[5:13] clip from CBS “Plastic made from air may help solve carbon emissions crisis”: “So I know this sounds more like magic than science, so I wanted to make sure you guys could actually touch and feel this . . .”
[5:35] I mean, seriously, that’s only about 1/20th of their personal daily metabolic carbon footprint and they’re impressed by it!
[5:43] news clips: “Newlight is selling its plastic to companies such as furniture maker KI, which uses it to create chairs. There are also air carbon cellphone cases, soap dishes, and even plastic bags.”
“a big game-changer for climate change, and Dave, you were telling us earlier about how they take the carbon out of the atmosphere and turn into plastic.”
“At a recent Fortune Magazine event, Michael Dell announced he will use Newlight’s air carbon bags to wrap his Dell computers.”
[6:17] Thunderf00t: And just a personal metabolic carbon footprint is peanuts compared to the total carbon footprint. I mean, like I was saying, this is a drop in the ocean AT BEST. I mean let’s keep this in perspective:
[6:32] clip from Weather Channel: “2011, the U.S. alone generated almost 14 MILLION TONS of plastic. Only about 8 percent was EVER recycled.”
[6:39] Thunderf00t: 14 million tons might sound like a lot. Until you realize that the U.S. carbon footprint is about 5,000 MILLION TONS, which was achieved by burning about 2,000 million tons of oil. Yeah, ALL of the plastics that you consume are give-or-take only take about 1 percent of your ENTIRE carbon footprint. If we were talking about carbon dioxide, he’s simply talking crap.
[7:12] Buuut it turns out that all that speak about basically doing what trees do—not entirely honest. Turns out that this process is actually gonna run on methane. That’s right—it’s basically turning hydrocarbon into plastic—which sounds exactly like what the oil industry is currently doing.
[7:32] So, what’s the difference? Well, they claim that they’re gonna get the methane OUT of the air:
[7:38] clip from Dell: “We connect to a Newlight through our technology innovation funnel at Dell . . . who’s doing, of all things, making plastic out of carbon in the air. It almost seemed like it was too good to be true.”
[7:48] Thunderf00t: And I simply call BULLSHIT on that. Well you’ve gotta understand that there really isn’t much methane in air—and for good reason—it gets oxidized away in our atmosphere really quite quickly with a half-life of about 10 years.
[8:01] Now, while it’s true methane IS a very big greenhouse gas, it’s also true that its concentration in air is very low—only about 1 part per million. There is just bugger-all methane in the air.
[8:16] So, I mean, just some ballpark numbers, the cubic meter of air is what this girl is essentially sitting in, weighs about 1 kilogram. So if you wanted to make about 1 kilogram of plastic, you would need to harvest the methane of 1 MILLION cubic meters of air with 100 percent efficiency. I mean, look, this is the tube they claim they’re sucking all our air through to make this plastic:
[8:41] clip from Weather Channel: “pull Southern California’s polluted air from the roof and make something with all that carbon.”
“This plastic comes from the air.”
“And this is it right here, more than 50 percent of THIS plastic right here came from the air on top of this building.”
[9:01] Thunderf00t: So let’s do a real simple back-of-the-envelope calculation. For a TRIVIAL task of say, producing 1 kilogram of plastic per hour—that means they’ve gotta suck 1 MILLION cubic meters of air through that tube. That tube, if you’re generous, is about 0.1 meters by 0.1 meters. So if they’re gonna achieve the paltry task of making 1 kilogram of plastic per hour, iiit turns out they’d have to be sucking air through that tube at about 100 TIMES the speed of sound. And that’s just the flow problem. Unless they’ve got some magic method for extracting the methane out of the air, it’s simply pointless.
[9:41] Now, 100 times the speed of sound—about a 100 times the speed of a bullet—might not sound impossible to some people. So let me put this into more human dimensions. So, we basically need about 1 million cubic meters of air to create a single kilogram of plastic. Well, by happy coincidence, the volume of the Empire State Building is also about 1 million cubic meters. So the bare minimum you would have to do is pump a volume of air the size of the Empire State Building—ignoring all the stuff about extracting the methane and turning it into plastic.
[10:20] But just for the moment, let’s just take a look at the costs of pumping that sort of volume of air. It’s actually going to take a sort of industrial pump that can pump about 2 cubic meters per second, and it runs on about 2 kilowatts. So this pump would take about one week to pump that million cubic meters of air. And just the grid electricity to pump that volume of air would generate about 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of burning about a 100 kilograms of oil to generate 1 KILOGRAM of plastic.
[10:58] And just to put that into some perspective, the petrochemical industry basically works by taking about 1 kilogram of oil and turning it into about 1 kilogram of plastic.
[11:08] clip from “Dell AirCarbon Plastic – Made from Air, Not Oil”: “Gone from doing less harm, to do no harm, to ‘let’s make it better than we left it’.”
“Newlight’s technology is such a great partner for that, but they’re making it better.”
[11:22] Thunderf00t: This really is the problem that you face, that you have essentially 1,000 tons of air, and you’re trying to extract from that 1 kilogram of methane, which can maybe be converted into about a kilogram of plastic.
[11:36] Look, this is the thing—you can get methane from the petrochemical industry fairly cheaply. But these ‘air carbon’ people claim that their process is cheaper than the petrochemical industry:
[11:47] clip from The Weather Channel: “although Mark truly believes he has found a way to make air plastic cost less than oil plastic.”
[11:55] Thunderf00t: In which case, the obvious question, if your air methane is cheaper than petrochemical industry methane, why not just sell it as ‘fuel’? You know, just for burning. It would be incredibly bio-friendly, as methane’s about 30 times as bad a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
[12:15] I mean there’s just something about this that REALLY stinks. That is, I simply don’t believe that there would EVER be a cost-effective way of extracting methane from the atmosphere like this.
[12:27] Now if you were doing this with BIO sources of methane—weeell, now that’s a little different. But that’s MUCH more what the petrochemical industry is essentially doing at the moment. And calling it “air carbon”, you know, pulled out of the air:
[12:40] clip from The Weather Channel: “Right. So this is actually air carbon.”
“Air carbon is the product name they use for this white powder.”
“How does this become plastic though?”
“Heat it up, and air carbon becomes a plastic called, PHA.”
CBS clip: “So that’s plastic that was literally made out of thin air?”
“We would be breathing this right now.”
[12:58] Thunderf00t: -seems to be ENTIRELY misleading.
[13:01] So, in summary, if they’re talking about making plastic from the carbon dioxide in the air, then they’re simply talking crap, as it could NEVER be cost-effective unless you can find a cheaper source of energy than fossil fuels. If he’s talking about methane in the air, then he’s MORE full of crap than the Empire State Building is full of air. And if he’s talking about bio methane created on a farm IN A BIOLOGICAL REACTOR—you know, to generate the methane in the first place—he’s talking about bio methane generated on a farm and he’s not talking about pulling it out of the air. And all those claims about ‘carbon out of the air’—not really true.
[13:47] clip from Dell: “Almost all plastics today come from fossil fuels. So, the difference with air carbon is, air carbon is made from air and carbon that we would otherwise be breathing right now.”
[13:56] Thunderf00t: Look, there’s ONE polymer that is the UNDISPUTED claim to call itself ‘air carbon’. It’s the most abundant biomolecule on Earth: cellulose, created by plants and the key structural component of trees—you know, wood. You wanna use ‘air carbon’ to wrap your computers, use paper. THEN at least the carbon GENUINELY came from the atmosphere and not some fraudulent claims about being able to make plastic cost-effective out of thin air. But I still just wail with despair at just how much scientific illiteracy there is throughout the mainstream media.
[14:38] clip from CBS: “So I know this sounds more like magic than science, so I wanted to make sure you guys could actually touch and feel this.”
[14:45] Thunderf00t: And just how a large company like Dell can promote this pseudo-science without even a cursory look as to if those claims are even remotely possible.
[14:57] clip from Dell: “We connect to a Newlight through our technology innovation funnel at Dell . . . who’s doing, of all things, making plastic out of carbon in the air. It almost seemed like it was too good to be true.”