Ecocentricity Blog: Modern Day Alchemy

By: John A. Lanier

SOURCE: Ray C. Anderson Foundation

SUMMARY:

Basically, they claim to have found the Holy Grail of the circular economy. They’ve developed a process to take generic waste that would otherwise be put in a landfill and turn it instead into a useful thermoplastic.

DESCRIPTION:

Let’s talk about alchemy. For anyone not familiar with the term, it is an old discipline related to manipulating physical matter, and it was essentially equal parts scientific inquiry, philosophy, and magic. Practitioners of it believed that there were fundamental natural processes that, if discovered and utilized, would allow for the creation of amazing and desirable things, like a universal solvent, elixir of life, panacea, or transmuted metal. This last goal is perhaps the iconic representation of an alchemical pursuit – for hundreds of years, some people thought it was possible to turn lead into gold.

I feel sorry for the alchemists of yesteryear. For one, I don’t think it was wise to play with lead every day. Further, alchemy ended up being a whole bunch of junk science/philosophy/magic. Modern day science has proven that what they were trying to do just isn’t possible. Imagine if you had dedicated your career to something that you believed would fundamentally reshape human existence (and probably make you rich in the process), only for it to end up being straight nonsense. Even famed scientists were seduced by alchemy’s tantalizing appeal – apparently even Isaac Newton was an alchemist!

While alchemy is a discredited field, I do have to admit that modern technological developments are as impressive as some of the things that alchemists were trying to do. The computer, the airplane, vaccines, and satellite communications are pretty dang magical when you think about it. And who knows what might be around the technological corner?Well, maybe some people know, and transmutation might actually be it. Please meet UBQ Materials, a company I recently learned about. For the record, I have no connection to them, and I cannot vouch for the legitimacy of their technological claims, but goodness gracious the claims are exciting.

Basically, they claim to have found the Holy Grail of the circular economy. They’ve developed a process to take generic waste that would otherwise be put in a landfill and turn it instead into a useful thermoplastic. In other words, instead of using virgin oil to make a base-plastic, they can make it out of all the banana peels, greasy pizza boxes, plastic films, and packaging materials in your kitchen garbage bin. In other other words, they’re alchemists (but like…maybe real ones).

They’re even calling the material “the most climate positive material available today.” As I recently discussed in a blog post, there is a clear and direct connection between climate and the circular economy, so they may actually be correct (though I’d want to see the math compared to wood).

I know, I know, you’ve heard of lofty technological claims before that ended up being overstated. I can’t promise that this company is any better. But I’m excited for a particular reason – they’ve made it to commercial scale. Here’s a recent article indicating that the car manufacturer Daimler will be testing the thermoplastic for use in its automobiles.

I suppose that will be a good validation of UBQ’s claims. Stay tuned – maybe one person’s trash really is another’s treasure.

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Tweet me: They claim to have found the Holy Grail of the #circulareconomy. They’ve developed a process to take generic waste that would otherwise be put in a landfill and turn it instead into a useful thermoplastic. #climatechange @johnalanierRCAF #Ecocentricity http://bit.ly/3b7GDPf

KEYWORDS: Ray C. Anderson Foundation, Ecocentricity, John A. Lanier, alchemy, climate change, circular economy

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