A vodka martini with a clean twist may be coming to a happy hour near you. Sustainable spirits maker Air Company is getting a lot of attention for producing what Morgan Sparkes says is the world’s first carbon-negative vodka.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company converts excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into high-purity alcohol, according to Sparkes, who is business development director at Air.
“We plan to tackle a number of other verticals, like fragrances and even fuel,” he said. “Our carbon utilization technology removes 1 pound of carbon from the atmosphere for every bottle of vodka that we create, which means we’re actively saving the planet one martini at a time.”
Air last week was named the winner of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas award in the North America category. Now, it is one of 10 companies selected to participate in the first carbontech accelerator program of the Carbon to Value Initiative (C2V).
“We’re incredibly excited to be part of such an esteemed group, and we can’t wait to work together to reduce the impacts of climate change,” Sparkes said during the C2V launch on Thursday.
The initiative is a collaborative program of Urban Future Lab, Greentown Labs and Fraunhofer USA, and is supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Consulate General of Canada in New York.
“The carbontech industry is still nascent, and many promising solutions will not be cost-effectively scaled in the time frame necessary without support for their expedited development,” Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, said during the event. “That is why we’ve launched the C2V initiative to drive the creation of a thriving carbontech innovation ecosystem.”
Over the next six months, according to Reichert, the group will participate in a customized curriculum and benefit from access to a network of investors and experts at Greentown and the Urban Future. The companies also will work with a leadership council comprising executive, academic and government thought leaders, she said.
In addition to the sustainable spirits from Air, the startups in the first C2V initiative group are using technology to develop direct carbon-capture systems, create more sustainable supply chains and even develop software to build markets for carbon as a service.
Here’s a look at the nine remaining companies in the group.
With more than 200 cities around the world announcing carbon targets and buildings comprising anywhere from 50 to 70% of all carbon emissions in cities, CarbonQuest is working to deploy modular, carbon-capture solutions across New York City and in other cities.
“We have developed a way to perform carbon capture in buildings, where we capture carbon dioxide from flue gas from boilers converted to liquid CO2 and sequester it to a beneficial use,” said Brian Asparro, chief operating officer at CarbonQuest.
The company is focusing on using the sequestered CO2 for concrete manufacturing and wastewater treatment, according to Asparro.
“Currently, we’re in the process of installing our first carbon-capture project at a multifamily property in New York City,” he said. “This solves a problem for this building, as well as a large number of the 50,000 buildings facing potential carbon penalties from programs like Local Law 97 in New York,” which sets carbon caps on buildings larger than 25,000 square feet.
Carbon-capture mineralization technology company CarbonFree has a moonshot ambition of capturing 800 million of the 8 billion tons of emissions attributed to the industrial sector.
“We capture CO2 directly from industrial point source emissions, and we mineralized them using calcium salts into calcium carbonate (a.k.a. chalk), which can be sold into the high-purity [precipitated calcium carbonates] markets, or down into a low-value concrete,” CEO Martin Keighley said.
The beauty of carbon-utilization technologies, Keighly added, is that they have a bigger impact than carbon sequestration by displacing other high-carbon processes.
“For every ton that we capture of CO2 from industrial processes, we can benefit the planet by up to 4 tons of CO2 because of the downstream carbon-negative products that we make,” he said.
The team at Cemvita Factory is working on a technology that works like fermentation, but their microbes eat CO2 instead of sugar and produce chemicals instead of beer, according to CEO and co-founder Moji Karimi.
“We use synthetic biology by engineering microbes that use CO2 as a feedstock to produce carbon-negative industrial chemicals,” he said.
The company’s flagship bioethylene project, according to Karimi, can use 1.7 million tons of CO2 to produce 1 billion pounds of bioethylene per year at cost parity or lower compared to fossil fuel-derived ethylene.
Ethylene compounds are used to make long-life products, such as bottles, clothing and tires.
CERT is another company working to decarbonize the industrial sector.
The company “makes basic chemical building blocks from CO2 using only water and electricity as inputs,” CERT co-founder Alex Ip said. “We can split the CO2 molecule and reform it into useable chemicals, such as ethylene, which could then drop into existing value chains.”
Chemical manufacturing produces about 1.5 GT of carbon emissions every year, according to Ip.
Cert was a finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE competition, with the first CO2 electrolyzer to convert CO2 to ethylene at scale last year. In addition, the company was the winner of the Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada program.
The team at Mars Materials is working on a method for producing low-cost, low-carbon acrylonitrile using captured CO2 and bio-based feedstock.
The acrylonitrile market is worth $12 billion today, according to CEO and co-founder Aaron Fitzgerald.
“It’s used to make products that are part of our everyday life,” he said. “Acrylonitrile is likely in your phone; it’s used to make your vacuums; and it’s in artificial rubbers and fibers.”
The carbon-capture technology Mars is using has 30% fewer emissions and produces no toxic byproducts, Fitzgerald said, adding that the company’s pilot program has produced 220 pounds of acrylonitrile to date.
Made of Air
Audi worked with Made of Air last year to develop a carbon-neutral façade material for a pilot sustainable dealership in Munich.
Made of Air, one of 10 companies in the first round of the Carbon to Value Initiative, worked with Audi to develop a carbon-neutral facade for a pilot sustainable dealership. | Audi
“We’re converting wood waste into high-value carbon thermoplastics, which can be transformed into various products across various markets, helping manufacturers transition away from fossil materials as they make their own production lines,” CEO and co-founder Allison Dring said.
The company’s carbon-negative materials use the carbon capture and sequestration strategy of biochar, according to Dring.
“We can permanently trap CO2 from the atmosphere into a form of elemental carbon,” Dring said. “Then, using that elemental carbon in the form of a base material for manufacturing, we can make a pathway for CO2 from the atmosphere to become a carbon sink in a material, which then can be used to make manufactured goods.”
Planetary Hydrogen is trying to shift the economics of hydrogen production while also leveraging the ocean as a large-scale natural sink for carbon. In the process, the company also wants to correct ocean chemistry.
“About a third of CO2 generated by human activities has already been absorbed by the ocean since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution,” said Jason Vallis, external relations director at Planetary Hydrogen. “That has led to ocean acidification, and it’s having a devastating impact on our marine ecosystems.”
The company’s technology uses renewable energy, water and mineral salt to produce hydrogen and hydroxide using salient electrolysis, according to Vallis.
“Hydroxide is a source of alkalinity,” he said. “When it’s added to the ocean, it transforms dissolved carbon dioxide into stable bicarbonate, which is a natural component of seawater, locking carbon away on a geological timescale.”
Vallis said the company plans to build a pilot plant next year.
The carbon storage technology being advanced by Carbfix is imitating what Mother Nature has been doing for millions of years: making stone.
“We mineralize CO2 by dissolving it in water; then we inject it into basaltic rock, where it starts to mineralize and it carbonates so the CO2 has no way of leaking out,” said Kristinn Ingi Larusson, head of business development.
The company has been making CO2 injections on an industrial scale since 2016, according to Larusson.
“We have injected around 100,000 tons, and the capture and sequestration cost is less than $25/ton,” he said.
The company now hopes to scale up its operations to a global market.
Patch is taking a different approach to the goal of valuing carbon, with a software platform that helps generate demand for carbon removal solutions through investing and product development.
“We operate a marketplace … to allow buyers to connect to a variety of carbon removal projects, whether they’re direct air carbon capture, mineralization or biochar,” said Elias Elhaimer, partnerships and supply lead.
The company’s application programming interface also allows companies to create carbon-neutral or carbon-positive applications that include, for example, carbon neutral credit cards or carbon neutral flights.
“We’re excited to work with these amazing carbon removal companies to understand their needs and build this infrastructure to allow carbon removal to be big,” Elhaimer said. “We believe that software is going to be an essential piece of the puzzle for handling a lot of the complexities with scaling an industry very fast.”
NetZero Insider, 2021-05-09.