Environmentally friendly materials are being used more and more. A special focus is on developments that are not only of the right origin and recyclable but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
German brand Made of Air has developed a carbon-negative bioplastic that can be used in cars, interiors, and cladding. The material contains biochar, a carbon-rich substance obtained by burning biomass without oxygen, which prevents carbon from escaping as CO2. This bioplastic was used, for example, to decorate the facade of the Audi showroom in Munich – the cladding contains 14 tons of carbon, which can only be released by burning the material.
Some startups, including London-based Biohm, are using mycelium to create building insulation that is naturally fire-resistant and removes “at least 16 tons of carbon per month” from the atmosphere. Mycelium, the biomaterial that forms the root system of fungi, feeds on agricultural waste and, in the process, captures the carbon that is stored in this biomass. Mycelium has better-insulating properties than most standard insulating materials and actually insulates carbon. In addition, the mycelium grows quickly, is cheap to produce, and can be turned into new materials, including as an alternative to natural leather.
3. Carpet tiles
U.S. carpet tile manufacturer Interface is aiming to make its entire product range carbon-negative by 2040, starting with the Embodied Beauty and Flash Line models, which were released in 2021. They are made almost exclusively from recycled plastics and various biomaterials, which contain more carbon than is emitted during their production. The coatings are not completely carbon negative as Interface cannot influence the transportation and use of goods after they leave the factory. Therefore, the company is trying to focus on reducing carbon emissions at stages that it can control.
A fully grown tree can remove 22 kilograms of CO2 from the atmosphere in a year, meaning that this material is carbon negative if sourced responsibly, and the felled tree is offset by new planting. Any carbon stored in wood needs to be matched against emissions generated during transport and processing, and replacement trees need to grow long enough to also be turned into carbon storage materials. However, there is a problem with wood – a huge amount of waste produced by the forest industry. Only a portion of each tree is used, and significant amounts of trimmings and sawdust are generated during the processing of wood. In addition, only about 10% of wood is recycled.
5. 3D printed wood
Household goods company Forust has developed a way to convert sawdust and the natural polymer lignin emitted by the timber and paper industries into 3D printing filament. Designer Yves Béart created a collection of Vine items for the brand using this technology. The sawdust composite is printed on a 3D printer in layers – as a result, the finished product imitates the appearance of various wood fibers. By making products from waste, the company hopes to reduce cutting down trees, as well as prevent wood waste from rotting or burning, which leads to carbon re-release.
6. Olivine sand
Olivine, which is one of the most abundant minerals on Earth, is able to absorb carbon when it is crushed and scattered across the earth. This means that it is suitable for use as a fertilizer and can replace sand or gravel in landscaping. And its “carbonated” version can be used as an additive in the production of cement, paper or fibers for 3D printing. One ton of olivine sand can absorb up to one ton of CO2. This process is constantly happening in nature – a chemical reaction is called “weathering of olivine”.
Montreal-based Carbicrete has developed a type of concrete that captures carbon during production, replacing emission-intensive cement that accounts for 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions from the steel industry. This process is currently based on captured industrial emissions. That is, the amount of new emissions entering the atmosphere is reduced, but the amount of CO2 already present in the atmosphere is not reduced. However, once the company starts capturing CO2 from the atmosphere through direct air capture (DAC), the final material will be carbon negative.
Australian company Mineral Carbonation International injects CO2 into industrial wastes such as mine waste, turning it from a gas into a solid that can then be used to make cement bricks and other building materials. This process reproduces the same process of mineral carbonation that occurs in nature, when carbon dioxide dissolves in rainwater and reacts with rocks to form new carbonate minerals.
Solar Foods is among a growing number of companies using industrial emissions to produce food and beverages. A Finnish company is using microbes to turn carbon dioxide into a meat substitute called Solein. CO2 is introduced into the fermentation tank along with hydrogen and various nutrients. Microbes consume it all and turn it into protein, which is then collected and dried, resulting in a powder that has a composition similar to that of dried soybeans. Carbon dioxide currently comes from industry, but can be obtained from captured atmospheric carbon. If scaled up, the technology could potentially provide humanity with the protein it needs. In this case, only a part of the land and resources used in traditional agriculture would be used, which means that
Brooklyn-based Air Co uses CO2 to produce vodka. The brand breaks down carbon dioxide using water and a patented catalyst in a reactor to create ethanol, which is then used to distill vodka. The company uses CO2 from factory emissions, turning it into in-demand products. However, food and beverages provide only short-term carbon storage as the product is quickly consumed and the carbon is returned to the atmosphere through the natural carbon cycle.