Washing laundry is a significant use of water for the average person: According to a study, water used washing clothes makes up about 16 per cent of an individual's total water use.
Moreover, washing and drying the laundry releases more than just dirt into the water and the environment: detergent chemicals and synthetic fragrances, genetically modified enzymes, Carbon dioxide and microplastics.
Thankfully, many companies are working towards zero emissions and reducing their carbon footprint by developing fossil-fuel-free cleaning and laundry products. Companies like Unilever’s ambition is to replace non-renewable fossil sources of carbon (identified in Unilever’s Carbon Rainbow as Black carbon) are being replaced using captured CO2 (Purple carbon), plants and biological sources (Green carbon), marine sources such as algae (Blue carbon), and carbon recovered from waste materials (Grey carbon).
And we now have a laundry capsule made from Purple carbon!
Recently Unilever partnered with LanzaTech and India Glycols to produce a surfactant made from industrial carbon emissions instead of fossil-fuels. The innovative shift in production utilises biotechnologies and a newly configured supply chain between the three partners, who are working together for the first time.
A laundry capsule from captured Carbon
Typically derived from fossil fuels, surfactants are a critical ingredient for creating the foam and cleaning action of many household cleaning and laundry products, from dish soaps to fabric detergents. The new process now allows surfactants to be made using recycled carbon. The carbon thus captured from CO2 is called 'Purple' carbon.
These OMO laundry capsules were launched in China on World Earth Day on April 22 for a limited time. The process marks the first time a surfactant made using captured carbon emissions will come to market in a cleaning product.
India Glycols is the first company in the world to manufacture green surfactants for the pharma and personal care industry. For last more than 25 years, surfactants produced from sugarcane molasses in its plant at Kashipur in the Himalayan foothills of Uttarakhand, have been used world over, eliminating so many trillion tons of CO2 emissions.
The partnership is just one in a series of innovations Unilever is investing in as part of its Clean Future strategy which seeks to eliminate fossil-fuel based chemicals from its cleaning and laundry product formulations by 2030.
Peter ter Kulve, President of Unilever Home Care and trailblazer of the Clean Future strategy comments, “This innovation has been a critical step forward in putting our Clean Future strategy into action. It is one more ingredient in our portfolio not made from fossil fuels, and I am excited about the potential this innovation represents across our portfolio. And it really is just the beginning. We will continue to invest in innovations and partnerships that can build cleaner solutions and products at scale. We hope to trial further pilots of the product in countries outside China.”
Recycled carbon is a key form of renewable carbon and is essential to eliminating the use of fossil fuels. A recent report published by the Nova Institute and Unilever in April 2021 estimates that demand for fossil-derived chemicals will more than double by 2050. Renewable carbon production will need to increase by a factor of 15 by 2050 to phase-out the use of fossil carbon in consumer products.
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Industrial activity generates waste gases that usually end up as CO2 emissions and get stuck in our atmosphere, causing our climate to change and our planet to get warmer. LanzaTech, a synthetic-biology company and a world leader in CarbonSmart products, has developed a way to use these waste gases to produce ethanol via a fermentation process. The waste gas is the nutrient used by a specifically selected microorganism for the fermentation process. This process is similar to how beer is made. In beer brewing, yeast is used to turn grain into alcohol. Instead of using yeast or sugars, pollution is converted by microorganisms to directly convert the carbon in the gas into alcohol/ chemicals.
Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech says, “This is a game-changer for any industry that uses carbon. We see a future in which everyday products will be made from recycled carbon waste. We can now recycle carbon from agriculture, from industry, and from society to make the fuels and chemicals that we use today and are produced from oil. By using waste carbon emissions there is no impact on land or biodiversity. Unilever's OMO laundry capsule is just one example of how other industries can employ this technology in their manufacturing process and reduce their impact on the environment.”
The process LanzaTech is using to create ethanol from captured carbon cuts the GHG emissions from this process by 82% compared to the traditional fossil-fuel process, according to a LanzaTech study.
The breakthrough process involves primarily three stages:
1. Capture: LanzaTech uses biotechnology to capture waste industrial emissions at its Beijing Shougang LanzaTech plant in China and converts these emissions to ethanol.
2. Conversion: India Glycols converts the ethanol into ethylene oxide, a key feedstock to make surfactants at its site in India.
3. Formulation: Unilever uses the surfactant in the new OMO laundry capsules, manufactured at its Hefei factory in China.
India Glycols, the conversion partner
With an installed capacity of producing more than 400000 MT of products from renewable resources, India Glycols manufactures green technology-based bulk, specialty and performance chemicals and natural gums, spirits, industrial gases, sugar and nutraceuticals from bio-waste. The company was established as a single mono-ethylene glycol plant in 1983.Today, IGL’s state-of-the-art, integrated facility is the first of its kind in the world using feedstocks from renewable sources.
Uma Shankar Bhartia, Chairman and MD, India Glycols says, “We look forward to make a success of this tripartite agreement by producing many more products for varied applications.”
Prof Rakesh Kumar Khandal, President R&D and Business Development and his team at India Glycols provided the technical support for the project.
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