First carbon capture laundry product on the market

Article by Amanda Jasi

A PARTNERSHIP between Unilever, LanzaTech, and India Glycols has commercialised what they claim is the first cleaning product containing a surfactant made from captured carbon.

Surfactants are a primary component in cleaning and laundry products, important for creating foam and cleaning action. They are typically manufactured using ethanol derived from fossil fuels.

The partnership looked to produce a surfactant made from industrial carbon emissions instead of fossil fuels, and have achieved this via biotechnology and a newly-configured supply chain between the three companies.

The new process involves three primary stages. Carbon recycling technology company LanzaTech is responsible for capturing carbon emissions at its Beijing Shougang LanzaTech plant in China and then converting the emissions to ethanol. LanzaTech’s joint facility with Chinese iron and steel company Shougang Group converts waste steel mill gases into sustainable biofuels.

According to LanzaTech, its process for producing ethanol from captured carbon reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% compared to traditional fossil-fuel based production – via ethylene hydration – assuming all carbon contained in all ethanol products eventually ends up in the atmosphere as part of product use. Lanzatech declined to provide specific figures.

India Glycols (IGL), a “green” petrochemicals company, then converts the ethanol into ethylene oxide, a feedstock for surfactant production carried out at an IGL site in India. Unilever then incorporates the surfactant into the formulation of its new OMO laundry capsules, which are manufactured at its Hefei plant in China.

Unilever launched its product on 22 April, to coincide with World Earth Day.

The partnership is one in a series of efforts that Unilever is investing in as part of its Clean Future strategy, under which it seeks to eliminate fossil-fuel based chemicals from its cleaning and laundry product formulations by 2030. Unilever has also committed to achieving net zero emissions from all its products by 2039.

Peter ter Kulve, President of Home Care at Unilever, said: “Advancements in technology like this mean we can now reinvent the chemistry of our products. Instead of valuable carbon being released directly into the atmosphere, we can capture it and recycle it in our products instead of using fossil fuels.”

“We’re excited by the potential that this breakthrough represents for future innovations across our portfolio and our industry.”

Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, commented: “Our planet is running out of time and how we treat carbon requires urgent revision. By working with Unilever and IGL we can turn waste carbon into an opportunity, keeping fossil fuels in the ground and enabling new circular processes to make the products we use every day.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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