Currently, materials for manufacturing in space have to be shipped from Earth at significant cost. Sending material to Mars costs $20,000 per kilogram, and this cost has poor mass scaling for large payloads, as the amount of fuel required increases exponentially with payload mass. Opus 12 has developed a breakthrough technology that will enable the synthesis of plastics from CO2 and water, which are available in situ in extraterrestrial environments. Our electrochemical device can take water and CO2 from the Martian atmosphere and transform these molecules into polymer precursors (ethylene and/or methane). This opens up a variety of space-based manufacturing applications, including 3D printing to manufacture tools and building materials in space. Producing plastics in space can furnish the building blocks for extraterrestrial built environments and can be a major step in furthering humankind?s ability to explore and survive on Mars and beyond.
Ethylene and methane are two of the most widely available organic compounds. Ethylene has a global market of over $100 billion. Approximately half of all ethylene produced is polymerized to polyethylene. Based on customer interviews, existing producers of ethylene and ethylene-related equipment, e.g., Total Energy, Chart Industries, SABIC, have expressed interest in alternative feedstocks for ethylene production. While the natural gas fracking boom in the U.S. has created a glut of ethane feedstock, in other geographies, the supply of ethane is restricted, and SABIC is seeking new ways to increase its ethylene production at existing facilities. Methane can also be used to produce polymers, such as polyhydroxyalkanoates, which have the added benefit of being biodegradable. Many players see a growing consumer demand for environmentally-friendly plastics, and polymers made from recycled CO2 would be a compelling product to market to consumers.