Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Plastic from oil

  1. Jun 12, 2015 #1
    Can plastic be made NOT FROM oil?
    And not from remains of living organic matter.
    I mean, we extract carbon from atmosphere CO2 or from the rock...
    Oxygen from atmosphere or sea water...
    Hydrogen from sea water...
    Nitrogen from atmosphere or other sources...
    Combine them together and voila, we get plastic.
    Is the process economically inefficient?
    Is the process technically difficult?
    Is the process scientifically impossible?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 12, 2015 #2
    Plastics are polymers of hydrocarbons. There are many things to consider about why it is very difficult (sometimes currently impossible) and very economically inefficient to make plastics from the starting materials you mentioned.

    Carbon, in the form of CO2, is incredibly stable. It takes a significant amount of energy to functionalize the CO double bonds since they are so stable.

    Polymers, of any kind, need a way to be polymerized. This means they need some sort of functionality on them that can be reacted with. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) for instance is made from vinyl chloride which has the electron poor double bonds which link together in the polymerization reaction.

    Now couple these two things together. It is not economically feasible to make plastics in this way.
  4. Jun 12, 2015 #3
    Thanks for your answer.
    It's just an idea. If fusion power is in operational and if we can gain limitless clean energy...
    We'll be free completely from oil dependency
  5. Jun 13, 2015 #4


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Think this way: plants are capable of producing polymers using the compounds you have mentioned. Cellulose, caoutchouc, DNA, proteins - these are all polymers. While they don't necessarily fit the notion of 'plastic' in a common understanding of the word, they share many general chemical properties. So from the purely chemical point of view answer to your question is "yes".

    Whether it is economically viable is a completely different question.
  6. Jun 13, 2015 #5
    That's why Sun have helped us making plastic hundreds of millions of years ago?
    It's just that someone in the other thread says that we can't be independent from oil, even though we are able to build fusion power plants. But that's out off scope :smile:
  7. Jun 22, 2015 #6


    User Avatar

    About the fusion power, it's not yet feasible.
    Oil is a great start-up for the chemical industry. And while most of it is used for power generation only about 3% goes to chemical plants, and a fraction of that to plastics. That could in theory and a very expensive practice be replaced by other hydrocarbon sources, for example vegetable oil (which requires a lot of chemical processing).
    But the main issue IMO is the air transportation, were fueling airplanes takes around 6% (not exact just google) of the world supply.
    On land you could build electric solutions, yet in air we have no other high capacity energy storage method to date to rival with hydrocarbons. So we will survive life without oil, but we will not fly that much.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook