Factory greenhouse gases… A factory converts them into useful products
A factory on the outskirts of Chicago has created a technology that allows microorganisms to recycle the greenhouse gases they emit into ethanol, and from there into everyday products, such as bottles, household products or even clothing.
Inside dozens of flasks in the laboratory of the company “LanzaTech) In the suburbs of Chicago, a boiling liquid contains billions of tiny bacteria that feed on gases to be recycled.
Thanks to a technique developed in this lab, 3 Chinese factories are using these microorganisms to convert the greenhouse gas they emit into ethanol. Then global brands like ZARA and L’Oréal use ethanol to make everyday products like bottles, detergents, sweatpants and even dresses.
“I never imagined 14 years ago that we would put on the market short gowns made from steel mill emissions,” says Michael Copquet, who joined Lanza Tech almost immediately after its founding.
And “Lanza Tech” is The only US company among the 15 companies that qualified for the Earthshot Award(Earthshot Prize) set up by Prince William to reward climate initiatives.
Since its launch, Lanza Tech and its 200 employees; They prevented the emission of 200 thousand tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, producing instead about 190 million liters of ethanol.
Microbiologist Koepke believes that this amount is “very small” compared to the quantities needed to combat climate change.
And after it took 15 years to develop the technology and prove its effectiveness on a large scale, the goal now is to increase the number of factories that adopt it.
“We want to get to a point where we can use the carbon emitted from the ground,” Koepke says, rather than extracting more oil and gas.
Professional sports training
LanzaTech likens its technology to beer production. Instead of fermenting sugar, the greenhouse gas is used as the feedstock, while the end product is ethanol.
The commercial bacteria was spotted decades ago in the feces of rabbits. The company put them in industrial conditions to improve their performance. “It was like training a professional athlete,” says Koepke.
These bacteria are then sent in the form of a lyophilized powder to factories that build reactors several meters high. These companies will get revenue from the sale of ethanol.
As for the Chinese sites that are interested in this field; It is a steel plant and two ferroalloy factories, while 6 other sites are being established, including the “ArcelorMittal” plant in Belgium, and another in India belonging to the “Indian Oil Company”.
And since bacteria can ingest carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen, the process is very “smooth” than “any other gas conversion technology,” according to Zara Summers, vice president of science at Lanza Tech, who notes that the raw material could be “Waste” that turns into gas or “agricultural waste or gases emitted from any heavy industry.”
Through these gases, the various partnerships made it possible to produce cleaning powders sold in the “Migros” chain of stores, and two sets of dresses sold by the “Zara” brand for about $ 90 per dress, which are made of polyester that comes with 20% of the captured gases.
And Summers believes that “mankind will always need carbon,” but “in the future, the idea is to benefit from it. (…) Instead of releasing it into the air, it is used to manufacture products.”
Lanza Tech established a separate company, Lanza Gate, with the goal of using ethanol as jet fuel. Increasing global production of this fuel poses a major challenge to the sector, which seeks to become “environmentally friendly”.
The company aims to produce about 3.8 billion cubic meters of fuel annually by 2030.
Unlike bioethanol produced from wheat, beetroot or corn, ethanol produced from gas does not require the use of agricultural land.
LanzaTech’s next challenge is to market bacteria that produce gases other than ethanol. Thousands of species are subject to testing in the company’s laboratories.
“We have proven that we can produce more than 100 chemicals,” says Koepke. He shows great enthusiasm for an idea still under development centered on converting gases directly into ethylene, which is “the most widely used chemical product in the world” (for bottles, wrappers…). Ethylene production currently emits roughly as much carbon dioxide as aviation.
Currently, the ethanol produced by Lanza Tech must be converted to polyethylene, but this stage can be skipped and thus save more energy.