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Market Grows for Products Made With Recycled Carbon


A worker inspects a ring set with an Aether diamond made from captured CO2, at the RFG Manufacturing Riviera jewelry design facility in New York City, New York, September 30, 2021. (REUTERS Mike Segar)
Market Grows For Products Made With Recycled Carbon
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Diamonds, sunglasses and sports clothing can be made using carbon dioxide, or CO2, one of the major gases causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm.

Young technology companies making such manufacturing possible are getting attention from investors.

Some manufacturing methods use bacteria. Others use proteins. Some use chemical processes to speed natural reactions. Most separate the carbon and oxygen in CO2 to create another chemical that is used to make popular products.

It is estimated that these companies have raised over $800 million so far this year. That is more than three times their 2020 total, reports Reuters. The news agency examined data from research companies PitchBook, Circular Carbon Network, Cleantech Group and Climate Tech VC.

"I don't want to call it a green tax, but our consumers who really do care…have demonstrated that they're willing to pay a bit of a premium," said Ryan Shearman. He is chief of Aether Diamonds, which uses captured CO2 to manufacture diamonds.

Another use of recycled carbon is less shiny but still strong: concrete. CarbonCure Technologies is developing a method that injects CO2 into fresh concrete. The trapped carbon strengthens the concrete and keeps the gas out of the air.

Robin Niven leads the company. He said the word “green” is good for marketing products.

"About 90 percent of our uptake has been from independent concrete producers large and small that are just looking for that competitive edge."

UN aims to reduce CO2 emissions

The United Nations says countries need to capture and store 10 billion tonnes of CO2 every year by 2050 to slow climate change. Current carbon capture programs, however, can only store thousands of tonnes.

Humans produce heat trapping gases equal to around 50 billion tonnes of CO2 each year. International officials will gather in Scotland in late October and November for a U.N. climate conference on cutting gas emissions, or releases.

In May, Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy released a report on CO2 recycling. The report said that, if all products made from oil used recycled CO2 instead, it would result in about 6.8 billion fewer tonnes of carbon emissions.

Amar Bhardwaj was the lead writer. He said CO2 recycling is not always the best choice. He said that trying to reduce carbon emission only with recycling “would be a misuse of CO2 recycling," because there are less costly methods.

Nicholas Flanders is a co-founder of a company called Twelve. It uses chemical processes to reuse CO2. Flanders said recycling is better than storing captured CO2 underground. "We're developing a technology that can go toe to toe with fossil fuels," he said. He added that his company can remove carbon without seeking financial support from the government.

That is because many consumers are interested in the "green" message of carbon recycling.

Clothing company lululemon athletica says it has created a polyester material from carbon emissions jointly with LanzaTech. That company uses bacteria to recycle ethanol, a kind of alcohol, into ethylene. Ethylene is used to make polyester cloth and plastic containers.

LanzaTech has raised the most money of the companies competing in the field, the Reuters examination found.

CEO Jennifer Holmgren said LanzaTech's ethanol costs more than ethanol made from corn, but people who want green products are buying anyway.

The biggest investment in the new market this year, more than $350 million, went to Solugen, a company based in Houston, Texas. Solugen feeds CO2 and other things to enzymes that make chemicals for stronger cement, water pipe coatings and other products.

Its products already cost less than those made from fossil fuels, said Solugen chief Gaurab Chakrabarti. The company does not get its CO2 from factory emissions or from the air. However, Chakrabarti does describe this as “an option.”

Capturing CO2 does not seem like a good idea to investors, who think the government should be responsible for such high-cost, high-risk projects.

However, Nicholas Moore Eisenberger, of investment group Pure Energy Partners, thinks differently. He invested in direct air capture company Global Thermostat. He said he sees opportunity in necessity. He believes that once the projects grow enough, costs will fall.

"The science tells us that we have under a decade to start to bend the curve on climate, and that is now within the investment time frame” of most private investors Eisenberger said.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Reuters reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

green –adj. concerned with protecting the environment (from the color green)

consumer –n. a person who buys goods and services

premium –n. a price that is higher than the regular or normal price

recycle –v. to make something new from (something that has been used before)

toe to toe –idiom to compete against someone

fossil fuels –n.(pl.) fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) which are formed in the Earth from dead plant and animal matter

option –n. something that can be chosen; a choice or possibility

opportunity –n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done; a chance

decade –n. 10 years

time frame –n. a period of time that is used or planned for a particular action or project

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