Creating a circular economy
Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Circular economies not only utilize resources efficiently, they also help societies achieve self sufficiency, increase security, and unleash creativity.
Circular economy is more than recycling manufactured goods
“We all recycle manufactured goods. Some societies are better at it than others. But we seldom think about recycling raw materials that end up as wastes. The biggest of these is Carbon Dioxide.”
Two preconceived notions prevent us from truly creative on recycling carbon dioxide. The first one is that CO2 is a very stable molecule and therefore it requires a lot of energy to break it apart and reuse it as a raw material. The second impediment is to think that we have to solve the giga ton emissions of CO2 all at one with one centralized process.
We can Use CO2 as a starting block for new chemicals and materials
First, it has been done before! All of today's carbonaceous materials once started from our CO2-rich atmosphere and processed by bacteria. Second, we break apart even more stable molecules every day. Iron oxide is a much more stable molecule. Aluminum oxide is even more stable. Silicon dioxide is also highly stable and we have a lot of it. Yet we don't think too much about producing iron, aluminum, and computer chips. Compared to these molecules, CO2 requires much less energy to break apart and make new organic or inorganic compounds. There has been a lot of technologies developed to do this using chemical, electrochemical, and photochemical processes. We know how to do this, but we just don't have the investment to do this. Instead, we spend billions of dollars burying CO2 in the ground for our future generations to worry about.
We cannot solve the Gigaton problem all at once
“It is like losing 300 pounds all in one go. It can be done but it does not change the fundamental lifestyle that led to the problem”
We are used to thinking that setting up large, centralized production plants is the most efficient way to make chemicals and materials. To recycle CO2 and convert it to useful chemicals, a lot of localized, smaller plants with distributed energy sources and local resources is needed. For this, we have to reimagine the way our modern technology works.