# Could an ancient civilisation create plastic on Titan?

Could an ancient civilisation create plastics on Saturn's moon - Titan?

Much like how we forged metals and glass here on Earth... To prevent it from being impossible from the start fire can be produced using a special type of plant that can burn in Titan's native atmosphere.

The hydrocarbons are native to Titan so for example Titan has lakes of liquid methane/ethane and has huge sand dunes made of organic material in other words plastic so no need for oil.

https://www.wired.com/2013/09/cassini-titan-propylene/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/electric-sand-how-titans-dunes-got-their-weird-shapes/

My question is could one create useable plastics from it using the sort of technologies that a civilisation which is a sort of hybrid between civilisations like the Ancient Greeks and Aztecs all the way to the Renaissance era. But the wouldn't be able to use metals or glass. Since Titan is mainly made of water ice and organic materials so one would be limited to Native American/Stone Age-like tech.

I only have an A-level knowledge of Chemistry since I decided to study Physics at University but to my understanding most plastic require great temperature which is feasible with fire but without metal - the great pressure that most of these processes require isn't so feasible.

• Welcome to worldbuilding.SE. Please take a moment to walk through our tour and read our question help. Your question would receive higher quality answers if you told us a bit about the ancient civilization (especially tech level) and the plant that burns. Also, plastics come from hydrocarbons (aka, oil). Can you tell us where oil came from on Titan? – JBH Apr 1 '18 at 14:11
• Making plastics requires not only hydrocarbons and fire, but also equipment: glass beakers, rubber tubing, etc. And other ingredients like various acids. – RonJohn Apr 1 '18 at 16:00
• The hydrocarbons are native to Titan so for example Titan has lakes of liquid methane/ethane and has huge sand dunes made of organic material in other words plastic so no need for oil. My question is could one create useable plastics from it using the sort of technologies that a civilisation which is a sort of hybrid between civilisations like the Ancient Greeks and Aztecs all the way to the Renaissance era. But the wouldn't be able to use metals or glass. Since Titan is mainly made of water ice and organic materials so one would be limited with Native American/Stone Age-like tech. – Merlin Rowlands Apr 1 '18 at 16:44
• The plant that burns produces an oxidiser much like modern plants except in solid/liquid form hence why it is able to burn in Titan's atmosphere - It was the best method I could find for allowing fire on Titan without setting the entire world on fire or causing a Great Oxygenation Event which would destroy most of the appeal of writing a book about Titan and most probably prevent methane-based life from existing. – Merlin Rowlands Apr 1 '18 at 16:49
• @Merlin Rowlands: There is absolutely no risk of setting Titan on fire, any more than you could set Earth on fire. Fire is just a chemical reaction. On Earth, methane burns because there's plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere for it to react with. On Titan, things are just the other way around: you would burn oxygen because there's plenty of methane in the atmosphere. – jamesqf Apr 1 '18 at 18:25

Bacteria make plastics from methane without any equipment at all. Here's one recent example. Specifically, methanotrophic bacteria in Alpha-proteobacteria become rapidly filled with bioplastic in the presence of methane. I believe 60% of their biomass is plastic. It is their version of fat.

One would not need great temperatures. (a fire would be helpful but they'll have that.) One would instead need a way to harvest the bacteria and purify the plastic. It may be that some are more than 90% plastic, I don't recall, but they do fill up with the stuff.

We use these bacteria in biotech and it is the purification that is the main problem. But I suspect the answer is yes, if the people had the knowledge of these bacteria, it could be done with that level of tech.

Harder would be surviving without any oxygen! As multicellular creatures, your people will need a good electron acceptor like oxygen for their biochemistry. Nitrates (etc) aren't strong enough e- acceptors to give us (multicellular organisms) the energy we need.

• Ah thanks for the info so supposedly it would be cultivated in a way similar to yeast then? – Merlin Rowlands Apr 4 '18 at 15:22

For simple plastics like polyethylene (PE) it's perfectly possible. PE is just a long chain of $CH_2$ groups.

For some other plastics, like PVC, it might be impossible or really hard, depending on the availability of suitable chemicals, like Chlorine for Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).

High temperatures and pressure make the conversion faster, it doesn't mean it is impossible without them. UV light (a.k.a let them exposed to sun light) can open the bonds and allow for polymerization, too.