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CO2 on the rocks?

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Ever wonder what to do with carbon once it’s captured? While carbon capture is primarily used for oil extraction today, new and creative uses are emerging.

Vodka from CO2

Air Company, a Brooklyn-based startup, uses photosynthesis-inspired technology to create vodka distilled from CO2-derived products. It first creates hydrogen from water using a process known as electrolysis, before feeding it into a reactor alongside CO2 captured from ethanol plants in the Northeast. The gases then go over a catalyst, and the resulting mixture of ethanol and water is distilled into vodka. The company estimates that producing one liter of vodka takes a pound of CO2 out of the air.

The liquor, marketed as Air Vodka, comes in 750 ml bottles and retails for around $65. Air Company uses a similar technique to make hand sanitizer and, starting this spring, a fragrance.

Fashion Decarbonized

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in our world, it was responsible for about 4% of global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2018. Recently startups have started developing new solutions for this problem and they say their ideas could decarbonize the sector.

LanzaTech, an Illinois-based biotech company, has designed technology to use recycled carbon emissions in making polyester fabric. The first step is capturing carbon monoxide at a steel plant in China before it can burn and generate CO2. The gas is then compressed into a bioreactor where bacteria ferments it into ethanol, which is subsequently used to replace petroleum building blocks in polyester, she says.

LanzaTech’s technology provided the basis for 20% of the polyester in party dresses released by Zara last December. The company similarly collaborated with Lululemon to create carbon-based polyester that could soon be used in the brand’s garments.

Carbon for food

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that agriculture accounted for 17% (or about 1 out 7) of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. One startup hopes to use these natural resources by enriching our food!

NovoNutrients, a California-based company, collects carbon dioxide emitted by industrial or energy plants and mixes it in a water solution in a bioreactor alongside hydrogen, oxygen, and ammonia. It then introduces up to eight species of bacteria that feed off of CO2 and that, when combined with inorganic mineral salts such as sulfur, produce nutritional proteins.

The proteins are harvested, sterilized, and textured into an amber-colored powder. The startup aims to sell the proteins to food and feed makers as ingredients in meat substitutes as well as in fish food used in aquaculture.

Wash Laundry with Carbon

Every day, we use products such as shampoo, toothpaste, and detergent that contain fossil fuel. The next few years could see these items replaced with CO2-based materials.

Covestro, a German company that makes polymer materials, is working to use CO2 as a raw material in house detergents and cleaning products. Since 2019, the company has been developing technology that could allow it to substitute captured CO2 for up to 25% of ethylene oxide, a gas found in detergents that is typically made from petroleum or natural gas. Detergents made using this technology could be available in homes starting around 2024-25.

Jet-fuel from Carbon

The aviation industry is responsible for 2.8% of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, but electric planes present an array of technical challenges that startups are working to overcome in order to produce jet fuels that achieve net-zero emissions.

Among them, the California-based Twelve has developed a suitcase-size modular reactor it says can convert CO2 into ingredients needed to produce jet fuel. It recently worked with synthetic fuel company Emerging Fuels Technology to produce and test a batch of fuel from CO2, using a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Air Force. The company uses renewable electricity and water to split CO2 at low temperatures and produce carbon monoxide before adding hydrogen into the mix. This creates synthetic gas which can be used as the basis for a jet fuel that produces much lower carbon emissions than fossil-based fuel.

For more information see Wallstreet Journal.

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