These running shoes are made from carbon emissions
But On Running is working to reverse this trend. The brand recently developed the first shoe made from carbon emissions—essentially turning industrial pollution into foam for running shoes.
How it works?
The first step is to capture industrial carbon emissions that are normally released into the atmosphere. “Instead of the gas going up a sort of chimney, there is essentially a pipe leading to the vehicle,” said Freya Burton, sustainability director at LanzaTech, a carbon recycling company On works with for the process. this big pot. In this case, the industrial base is a steel mill in China.
LanzaTech then uses gas fermentation — similar to beer fermentation, but instead of using sugar, it uses carbon in the exhaust, Burton explains. “We pumped gas into this reactor, which contains our bacteria, water and some basic things like vitamins and other things that they need to grow.” The carbon is fermented and produces liquid ethanol.
Next, Technip Energies dehydrates the ethanol so that it becomes ethylene gas. Then, Borealis, a recycling and regenerative resin solution company, polymerizes that ethylene to create EVA pellets. The result is a high performance document On called CleanCloud.
This development helps On move away from fossil fuels in his materials. But it could also signal new possibilities for turning carbon pollution into usable materials.
“We envision a future in which every On product is fossil-free and designed for circularity,” said Ilmarin Heitz, On’s head of global innovation. “Our mission is to create high performance products with the lowest possible footprint.”
Build a better shoe
While running shoes are sometimes recycled into playground materials, “shoe recycling options are quite limited,” says Burton.
Mathilde Charpail, founder of Sustain Your Style, an information platform for fashion consumers, and SANE STANDARD, a comprehensive certification for fashion products, said: “Shoe production is challenging. in terms of sustainable material selection. However, running shoe manufacturers have begun incorporating other innovative materials that help reduce their carbon footprint, including EVA foam made from algae, she notes.
And On has created a ring subscription service called Cyclon for some of its recyclable shoes.
“Holding on to the first carbon-neutral shoe is an important milestone—not just for On, but for the entire sports industry. Five years ago, this was just a dream,” Heitz said. It took those years to find the right partner and figure out how to make each step of the process possible—and at commercial scale.
“One of the biggest questions is how to overcome the challenge of scaling up a promising new technology for mass production,” says Heitz. “We realized we needed to build a new supply chain. This is a pretty big job and a long-term investment.”
The shoe is called Cloudprime. CleanCloud™ EVA foam is used in the midsole, and through a partnership with French start-up Fairbrics, the polyester textile in the upper is also made from carbon emissions. Part of the midsole also contains 40% bio-thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), made from castor beans, and the outsole is 35% recycled TPU, through a partnership with chemical company Novoloop.
Some costumes already have similar technology. For example, Zara teamed up with LanzaTech to create two collections that also used captured carbon emissions, and they sold out in just a few hours, says Burton. It could be a signal that consumers have demand for these types of products.
Burton noted that other companies in the carbon conversion space are doing related work. “There is a lot of stuff out there about carbon recycling,” she said.
But apparel and footwear are “forgotten industries. Burton said the apparel sector has a larger carbon footprint than the aviation sector. With this development, “what we are trying to show here is that there are new ways to create materials in our everyday lives.”
So, does buying a pair of running shoes made from recycled carbon emissions really do much for the environment?
Answering this question requires “understanding how much energy is being used to get the carbon footprint to do it,” says Yuly Fuentes-Medel, fiber technology project manager at the MIT Materials Research Laboratory. fermentation to ethanol and then EVA.” . It depends on whether the process uses less energy than the processes used to make EVA.
“I think we’re starting to understand: How are we going to put the excess CO2 into consumer products?” Fuentes-Medel said. Any company that works “invests in technologies that make their products more sustainable is something we should celebrate—but also holds them accountable for the amount of energy this alternative generates. “
Also, although Charpail isn’t familiar with Cloudprime technology, she says that with several other promising innovations in sustainable materials, “when I dug deeper, I realized that it’s only 20 percent, 30 parts. hundred or 40 percent of the material is made from ‘creation’ and the rest is still pure synthetics.
On the overall Cloudprime technology, Charpail said, “The concept is great. It solves several problems at once: turning carbon emissions into something other than pollution and replacing synthetic materials, which are made from gasoline.”
Fuentes-Medel points out that when assessing the impact of putting captured emissions in shoes, consumer behavior is another factor to consider. “Everybody uses shoes, so you are influencing our behaviour,” she said. “You can make consumers part of the equation, which is something we haven’t been able to achieve yet.”
The Cloudprime shoe isn’t available for sale yet, but the company says it will be in the near future and aims to keep prices within the current range of On’s running shoes.
“If we want a better future, we must be willing to build it,” Heitz said.
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