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Would you wear a dress made of pollutant emissions?

The rise of carbon-negative materials

Would you wear a dress made of pollutant emissions? The rise of carbon-negative materials

During August, the U.S. Congress passed a reform named the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that to quote the U.S. government itself «includes approximately $369 billion in incentives for clean energy and climate-related program spending, including funding to encourage carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) projects». Once captured and stored, carbon inputs can be used in a variety of ways, including the production of so-called "carbon-negative" materials made from the same pollution that was taken from the air. Sneaker brand On, whose investors include Roger Federer, for example, is working with LanzaTech and Borealis, two carbon recycling and chemistry companies respectively, to produce a carbon-negative alternative to the foam used in shoe soles. And On is not alone: last year Pangaia created a sweatshirt whose graphics were produced using AirInk, an ink made from PM 2 particles. 5, a pollutant that is filtered and turned into pigment; beauty giant Coty, on the other hand, said that by 2023 it would begin extracting ethanol from industrial emissions to produce most of its perfumes, again in collaboration with LanzaTech; while last June it was Zara that partnered with the company to produce a polyester made from the same ethanol derived from industrial emissions.

«Steel mills usually flare carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere», explained Zahra Hirji on Bloomberg. «LanzaTech runs a plant at a steel-mill site, to easily grab the carbon-monoxide emissions and put them into a reactor — a process called gas fermentation. Then, a unique strain of bacteria inside the reactor devours the emissions» producing ethanol as a result. Interviewed by the newspaper, LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren explained: «It’s like yeast when you make beer and you give it sugar and it makes ethanol. We don’t feed it sugar; we feed our organism either carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide». The process appears to be ready to work on an industrial scale: according to Bloomberg, LanzaTech has produced more than 30 million gallons of ethanol from 2021 onward, which the company says corresponds to 150,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere with a goal of producing 100 million gallons by the end of 2023 by, among other things, beginning to employ carbon dioxide in addition to carbon monoxide alone.

The topic was also covered by Time, which, in describing the effects of the U.S. reform on the carbon-capturing industry, also expressed the concerns of many environmentalists about what the new incentives imply: capturing carbon from the air is certainly a business that will expand and especially an elegant solution to reducing emissions for all those industries that are struggling to reduce them, nonetheless the reform that was passed does little to reduce emissions as such - reduction that must accompany carbon capturing and not be replaced by it. The policy director of Food and Water Watch wrote:«The Inflation Reduction Act does not deliver mandates to cut pollution. It creates incentives that may drive up private investment, and it delivers billions to fossil fuel corporations based on the notion that their climate pollution can be somehow captured. This is a dangerous bet.».