A long-forgotten industrial fermentation process is allowing a small share of climate-changing carbon pollution to be turned into household products, with the first items made available this year.
Backers say the process, known as gas fermentation, uses carbon captured from the air, industrial smokestacks, municipal solid waste or other sources to create “green chemicals” that can be turned into plastics, soaps, fabrics, perfumes and more.
“A lot of people think stuff like this is science fiction. They don’t realize there are already plants running,” said Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive of LanzaTech, a carbon recycling company based in Chicago and with operations worldwide.
Holmgren said the company’s process is similar to that used to make alcohol, but instead of sugar, its engineered microorganisms eat industrial emissions such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and more to produce ethanol.
That, in turn, can be used to make the basic components for a variety of everyday products that typically rely on fossil fuels as their building blocks.
In April, LanzaTech, together with Unilever and India Glycols, announced a new laundry detergent made using carbon emissions captured at a steel mill in China.
In July, sportswear company Lululemon Athletica said it would start selling clothing made with polyester yarn created through LanzaTech’s gas fermentation.
“It’s really about the circular economy. We imagine a world where you take your waste back and reuse it,” Holmgren said.
Around the world, technological innovations to capture, store, reuse or replace carbon pollution are on the rise.
Last week, the world’s largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide from the air opened in Iceland, and US President Joe Biden announced a goal of converting the US airline industry to fully sustainable jet fuel by mid-century.
Synthetic biology — as used for making LanzaTech’s products — could play a key part in the transition away from fossil fuels and to a climate-smarter economy, backers say.
Michael Jewett, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois, said that finding ways to use carbon emissions to replace the “raft of products made from chemicals from petroleum” could have a significant impact on climate change.
FOSSIL FUELS EVERYWHERE
Industrial gas fermentation dates back at least a century, but the technology was ultimately overtaken by products based on cheap petroleum, said Jewett, whose lab has worked with LanzaTech.
Today carbon-based products include “the carpet we set our feet on in the morning, the toothbrush in our mouth, the shampoo for our hair, the clothes we wear and the detergents used for our laundry,” said an April report from the Nova-Institute, a German research group looking at greening the chemical industry.
Today, 85 percent of carbon used in such products comes from fossil fuels, the report found. It estimated that demand for such items could more than double by mid-century.
LanzaTech, created in 2005, aims to supplant that need for fossil fuels by instead tapping carbon dioxide.
It has two commercial plants in China making more than 15 million gallons of ethanol a year, using carbon captured from the waste gasses of an alloy and a steel plant.
The process is drawing attention from other companies, though Holmgren said none is as far along as LanzaTech, which also is working on producing greener jet fuel, perfumes and product packaging.
“We are seeing a rapid development of industrial biotechnologies, which is making high performance ingredients with a low CO2 impact much more accessible,” Unilever Home Care vice president Jonathan Hague said in a statement.
The US government is backing LanzaTech’s efforts, this year awarding it a US Department of Energy grant worth US$4.1 million to bolster its ability to turn waste carbon dioxide into a fossil fuel substitute.
“We have to develop entirely new types of technologies to enable a new carbon economy — one that captures, efficiently uses and stores more carbon than it emits,” said David Babson, a program director with department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy initiative, or ARPA-E.
“Traditionally ARPA-E and others have been thinking about new energy technologies as a means to replace petroleum or fossil carbon or to reduce emissions,” he said.
However, as it has become increasingly clear that global climate goals no longer can be met through emissions reductions alone. As global emissions continue to rise, the initiative has also looked at ways to get climate change-driving emissions already in the air back out, he said.
“We have to engineer a bunch of negative emissions pathways,” he said.
US$1 TRILLION MARKET
“Upcycling” carbon emissions to create consumer products offers a potential US$1 trillion annual market in the US alone, according to a 2018 estimate from Carbon180, a carbon removals non-profit.
It points to fuels, building materials and plastics as some of the biggest opportunities.
However, such industries are still nascent, said Noah Deich, co-founder and president of Carbon180, a carbon removals non-profit organization.
He estimated that there are dozens of start-ups and research projects today, but few that have generated “meaningful” revenue.
LanzaTech is one of the few companies building full-scale commercial projects, Deich said, suggesting that lessons from the company’s work would “help the whole industry move faster.”
He said that the sector is at an “inflection point,” as the technology advances and “the first wave of carbontech companies are moving beyond demonstration scale into commercial pilots.”
Removing carbon from the atmosphere remains hugely expensive, he said, but turning captured carbon into consumer products can provide an important revenue stream, driving down overall costs.
“These early efforts can flip the paradigm of carbon dioxide from pollutant to resource,” he said.
Unless Hollywood movies like Greenland, Deep Impact, and Armageddon have predictive powers and a rogue space rock is heading our way, stopping Chinese Communist Party expansionism is likely to prove the single most challenging and dangerous problem of our lifetimes. How can the United States, Taiwan, and other liberal democracies prepare for and prevent attacks from China? How can Washington bolster Taipei’s confidence when it doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a real country and, so far, lacks the political will to make major adjustments to its ossified China policy and Taiwan policy? How can Taiwan make itself heard on the world stage when
Hypersonic weapons are defined as armaments capable of traveling at speeds faster than Mach 5 and can be broadly classified into two types: hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) and hypersonic cruise missiles. The former are launched into the upper atmosphere by ballistic missiles. The vehicle is then separated from the booster to maneuver, or glide, toward its target. The latter can be launched from a jet plane or rocket to reach supersonic speed before igniting a scramjet engine to achieve hypersonic speeds. As the US engages in a great-power competition with China and Russia, all three countries are racing to field hypersonic
The number of people emigrating from Hong Kong has been rapidly increasing, Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department data show, with the territory’s population dropping by 110,000 people from 2019 to this year. China’s imposition of a National Security Law has clearly triggered a massive population outflow. However, not only people but also foreign businesses are leaving Hong Kong. For example, Vanguard Group, the world’s second-largest asset management company, VF Corp and Sony Interactive Entertainment have moved their top regional management from Hong Kong to Singapore. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, has also relocated staff
President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Double Ten National Day address has attracted a great deal of analysis and many different interpretations. One core question is why Tsai chose this occasion to discuss Taiwan’s national status. What was her main motive and what effect did she intend to have? These are issues that clearly need further clarification. The section of Tsai’s speech that attracted the most attention internationally was, not surprisingly, the part where she laid out “four commitments” that she said should serve as common ground for all Taiwanese, regardless of political affiliation. The commitments were to liberal democracy and constitutional government; that the