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First fabric from recycled carbon emissions

Waste to ethanol to polyester partners include India Glycols and Far Eastern New Century.

26th July 2021

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Vancouver, Canada

Clothing/​Footwear, Sustainable

Biotechnology company LanzaTech, based in Stokie, Illinois, USA, has partnered with lululemon athletica, an athletic apparel company headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, to create the world’s first yarn and fabric using recycled carbon emissions that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere as pollution.

LanzaTech has developed a solution to produce ethanol from waste carbon sources and is working with partners India Glycols Limited (IGL) and Taiwan’s Far Eastern New Century (FENC) to convert the ethanol to polyester.

Recycling carbon is a fundamental element of the circular economy, which will keep fossil carbon in the ground, reducing pollution and fossil fuel usage when used to make polyester. With a lower carbon footprint, this innovation could transform lululemon’s products and the apparel industry.

“We must radically change how we source, utilise and dispose of carbon,” said LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren. “Carbon recycling enables companies like lululemon to continue to move away from virgin fossil resources, bring circularity to their products, and achieve their climate change goals around carbon reduction. We call this being carbon smart.”

“We know sustainable innovation will play a key role in the future of retail and apparel, and we are excited to be at the forefront of an innovative technology,” added Ted Dagnese, chief supply chain officer at lululemon “Our partnership with LanzaTech will help lululemon deliver on our Impact Agenda goals to make 100% of our products with sustainable materials and end-of- use solutions, moving us toward a circular ecosystem by 2030.”

In October 2020, lululemon released its first Impact Agenda, outlining its multi-year strategies to address critical social and environmental issues with 12 goals to drive progress. The partnership with LanzaTech is one of the many ways lululemon is focused on bringing new technologies to the business.

LanzaTech’s process sources carbon from different types of feedstocks, from industrial emissions to syngas from gasified agricultural or household waste (including textile waste) and atmospheric CO2. The gas stream is fermented by LanzaTech’s special microorganisms into ethanol or other chemicals. The process is like traditional fermentation, except instead of sugars and yeast, it uses the carbon contained in waste gases and the microorganisms.

The process of capturing and recycling carbon before it is released in the atmosphere is an innovation that LanzaTech has already brought to airlines and home care companies, and now textile production.

FENC Topgreen Bio3-PET fibre made from LanzaTech’s ethanol is described as a waste-gas-based polyester with not only the same appearance but also the same properties and functionality of virgin polyester.

Industrial emissions, such as those from a steel mill, would otherwise be combusted and emitted as GHGs and particulate emissions. By capturing these and reusing the carbon to make yarn, the finished garments not only have a lower carbon footprint but ensure community pollution levels are reduced.

If these chemicals are made into new products such as textiles, once these products reach the end of their useful life and become waste, they can be gasified and fermented by LanzaTech’s process. In this sense, the pathway promotes circularity, keeping the carbon in the material cycle.

“Since initially connecting LanzaTech’s Taiwanese joint-venture setup with a pilot plant in Taiwan, I believed this waste-gas-based polyester formation would be a sustainable solution for the polyester industry,” said Dr Fanny Liao, EVP of RD at FENC.

With expertise in synthetic biology, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and machine learning coupled with engineering, LanzaTech has created a platform that converts waste carbon into new everyday products that would otherwise come from virgin fossil resources. LanzaTech’s first commercial scale gas fermentation plant has produced over 20 million gallons of ethanol which is the equivalent of keeping over 120,000 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Additional plants are under construction globally.

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