British consumer goods company Unilever has partnered with LanzaTech and India Glycols to produce a surfactant made from industrial carbon emissions instead of from 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.
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.
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.
The process marks the first time a surfactant made using captured carbon emissions will come to market in a cleaning product. The new surfactant will be used in an OMO (Persil) laundry capsule, which launched in China on April 22nd, World Earth Day. The product comes at no extra cost to consumers.
The product arrives to market as China continues to work towards its pledge of achieving net zero carbon by 2060, and consumers increasingly seek out environmentally friendly products and practices. Unilever consumer data from 2020 found that 87% of consumers in China considered climate change as serious a threat as Covid-19, the highest of all countries polled.
The breakthrough process involves primarily three stages:
- Capture: LanzaTech, the world leader in CarbonSmart™products, uses biotechnology to capture waste industrial emissions at its Beijing Shougang LanzaTech plant in China and converts these emissions to ethanol.
- Conversion: India Glycols Ltd converts the ethanol into ethylene oxide, a key feedstock to make surfactants at their site in India.
- Formulation: Unilever uses the surfactant in the new OMO laundry capsules, manufactured at its Hefei factory in China.
The partnership is just one in a series of innovations Unilever is investing in as part of its Clean Future strategy, announced in September 2020. Under Clean Future, Unilever seeks to eliminate fossil-fuel based chemicals from its cleaning and laundry product formulations by 2030.
Central to Clean Future is Unilever’s ‘Carbon Rainbow’, a framework that diversifies sources of carbon. The OMO innovation is an example of ‘purple carbon’: carbon captured from industrial emissions. 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.
Peter ter Kulve, President Home Care, Unilever said:
Jennifer Holmgren, CEO, LanzaTech added:
Uma Shankar Bhartia ji, Chairman and Managing Director, IGL said:
In September 2020, Unilever announced its Clean Future strategy to eliminate fossil fuels in cleaning products by 2030.
Central to Clean Future is the ‘Carbon Rainbow’, a novel approach to diversify the carbon used in product formulations.
Non-renewable fossil sources of carbon (identified in the Carbon Rainbow as black carbon) will be 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).
Alongside these commitments from the Home Care division, Unilever has said it is committed to achieving Net Zero emissions from all products by 2039.