AirCarbon: The Material That Can Be Recycled Again and Again
Graphic created by Josh Stevenson (Fullest Media)
What do you call the illegal trafficking of carbon dioxide? SMOGGLING! Okay, but seriously, we all know that the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere every year is no joke. And carbon dioxide emissions are just one small part of the larger problem of global warming, climate change and pollution. A lot of it comes as a result of processes being used and materials being used that are not sustainable and eco-friendly. These materials include plastic, Styrofoam, cotton and many of the other materials that we use in our day-to-day lives.
Just from plastics alone, 6kg of carbon dioxide are produced for every kg of plastic produced. For more information on the production of greenhouse gases and their effect on the planet, you can go and read my previous articles on food waste and Ooho pods.
One of the main problems is that companies and services don’t tend to be too aware of their carbon footprint. This is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by an individual, event, organisation, service, or product. Most companies around the globe currently produce a surplus of carbon dioxide. Their products and services actively leak carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by using unsustainable processes and materials.
Some big companies have already gone carbon neutral, or are pledging to go carbon neutral in the future. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide they produce ends up coming out as a net zero. These companies include Microsoft, Sky, Google and Quorn.
But some companies, like the one I will be focusing on here, are considered the most sustainable because their raw materials and processes are carbon negative. As the name suggests, carbon negative companies are the best for the environment because they are able to take carbon dioxide out of atmosphere, reducing the greenhouse gases polluting the air, and produce their products through a system that uses up more carbon dioxide than it creates.
And this is exactly what Newlight Technologies, Inc. does with their sustainable material AirCarbon.
The company began in 2003 when Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel asked themselves what they could do to turn greenhouse gases into useful and practical materials. They created Newlight Technologies, and created a code of ethics which states ‘creativity, optimism, determination, empathy.’ Their entire ethos rested on undoing the damage pollution has done to nature on as big a scale as they can possibly manage, but it didn’t happen right away.
For the next 10 years, they worked hard to research the topic. They soon discovered the material known as PHB which is produced by ocean microorganisms when they ingest air and greenhouse gases. PHB is a viable substitute for leather and plastic, but it can only be produced underwater and not on land. So the company’s main goal was to find a way to make that process scalable and suitable for land production.
And in 2013, they made it. They found the microorganisms that could complete the process, they built large plants on land with perfect conditions for the microorganisms to live and thrive and then harvested the product. The main challenges that the company faced during this time was making sure that the plant and the processes that they were using were consisting working at a level that was price effective, performance effective, and good for the environment. This process was not completed until 2019, when Newlight finally produced the Eagle 3: a machine that can create AirCarbon in a way that not only counteracts its carbon dioxide emissions, but actively uses up more than it produces.
Giving Back to Nature
The possibilities for AirCarbon are nearly endless. The nature of the material means it is easily meltable and biodegradable, so that it can be used for anything from tiny fibres, to big sheets of solid material, meaning it can replace a wide variety of plastics and leather.
Currently, AirCarbon is being used mainly in the fields of foodware and fashion. The products it can make are incredibly hardwearing and versatile, and every kg of AirCarbon produced takes 88kg of carbon dioxide out of the air!
But don’t just take my word for it. AirCarbon was recognised in 2013 as biomaterial of the year by the International Conference on Bio-based Plastics and Composites, and as Popular Science’s Innovation of the Year for 2014.
Continuing to Grow
Newlight Technologies are not finished yet. They have their sights set on expanding the range of uses for AirCarbon in the coming years and halting the current rate of damage to our planet, with a view to reversing the effect eventually.
The important and endearing thing for me about Newlight Technologies is that they understand how much work it takes to change our behaviours and make decisions that benefit the planet. They recognise that there are many barriers that we face that can get in the way of us leading sustainable lives, but just buying one product made out of AirCarbon makes a difference, and for every one product sold, that’s another improvement and so on and so forth. An individual may not feel like they are making an impact, but together, we can make choices that brighten up our tomorrow.