In one of our previous observations, Creating food from CO2, we delved into the extraction of carbon from the air to produce food and beverages. Since then, multinational companies have started using this process in the manufacturing of non-food related products.
Most people are unaware that the cleaning supplies we use are full of fossil fuel-based ingredients. Benzene, a chemical found in crude oil, and other petrochemicals may be in your laundry detergent. According to Unilever, the chemicals used in its cleaning and laundry products make up 46% of its overall carbon footprint. In partnership with biotech company Lanzatech, the consumer goods multinational has started using captured industrial emissions from a Chinese steel mill instead of fossil fuels, to produce laundry detergent. Launched in April, the laundry capsules will initially only be available in Chinese stores. The company has pledged by 2030 to replace all the fossil-derived carbon in its cleaning products with renewable or recycled carbon.
Chicago-based biotech company Lanzatech has also used this carbon recycling process at other industrial sites to turn emissions into alcohol for jet fuel and fragrances. The bioreactor it designed is filled with microbes which eat waste gases to produce ethanol, which is then used to produce jet fuel. CEO Jennifer Holmgren says that they want “to show the world that carbon reuse is feasible, possible, and can make economic sense.”
They’ve partnered with beauty giant Coty, the world’s largest perfume manufacturer, which produces fragrances for brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Calvin Klein. Coty announced this March that the ethanol produced from recycled emissions will be used to make some of its perfumes, although it didn’t indicate which specific ones. Alcohol is used in fragrances because it is effective at carrying scents and it evaporates on the skin. Currently, most manufacturers source their alcohol from sugarcane and sugar beets which, while natural, still have a negative environmental impact compared to recycled carbon.
Streetwear label Pangaia has partnered with start-up Graviky Labs, whose tagline is “decarbonize your production” to extract toxic particles out of the atmosphere to make screen printing ink for the brand’s logos. This is the first time that such an ink has been used on garments. Graviky’s co-founder is from India, where air pollution is a major concern. Carbon is one of the largest sources of this kind of pollution. It enters the atmosphere when fuels from vehicles, factories and industrial plants are burned.
The air economy is flourishing. More and more biotech companies that recycle carbon emissions are expected to emerge and to partner with major brands that are looking to reduce their carbon footprints. Not so long ago, we were seeing this technology adopted by smaller, independent brands. Now, we are seeing it scaled up and being used by larger, more established ones. Still, we are only just scratching the surface in terms of the application of this technology.
By: Faeeza Khan
What opportunities do you see for your organisation and this technology?