As the race to slow climate change continues, the push for alternative energies is ever-growing. These energies can assist in the end goal by drastically lowering greenhouse gas emissions and not furthering the state of global warming.
Though this approach is certainly helpful, there is likewise a need to remove the current amount of greenhouse gasses, namely Carbon Dioxide (CO2), from the atmosphere. This already happens organically from vegetation and the ocean that naturally sequesters carbon, but not at a rate that can keep up with carbon dioxide output from human-induced sources. In comes the need for extra help in this area, hence the growth of carbon capture technology.
The capture part is somewhat streamlined, leaving many companies either creating their own machinery to carry out the process or funding other companies to help them reach the end goal. Climeworks, a Swiss company founded in 2009, is a global leader in this area and one of the many examples of companies that have drastically helped advance this sector.
When it comes to the storage part, this is where there is more room for creativity, as researchers and scientists are frequently finding new and useful things that can store carbon. So far, we've seen such unique things fall in the realm of rocks, diamonds, and even beer. Now, there is another genius idea, storing carbon dioxide in vodka.
How It’s Done
The Air Company, a New York-based startup, began crafting up a unique spirit just a couple of years ago, carbon captured vodka.
The company describes the vodka as such: "Air Vodka is the world's cleanest, highest quality, and most sustainable spirit. It's also the world's first carbon-negative spirit. This spirit is engineered to help create a world with cleaner air—the perfect way to balance indulgence with impact."
The process starts by purchasing previously captured carbon dioxide that has already undergone cooling and pressurization. The company then utilizes an electrolyzer to split water into its respective elements, hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O2). Next, the oxygen is released into the air while they take the hydrogen and integrate it into the captured carbon dioxide using their Carbon Conversion Reactor.
"Inside our Carbon Conversion Reactor
is a continuous flow system. The CO2 and H2 flow through tubes, which are filled with our proprietary catalyst. This creates a chemical reaction that transforms the two gases into a liquid. This liquid is composed of ethanol (C2H5OH), methanol (CH3OH), and water (H2O)."
Their distillery process is the next step along the ride. First, it will work to separate the ethanol and methanol from the water and then repeat the process to separate the ethanol from methanol. Next, the ethanol is hand mixed with the water in steel totes to form the final product, vodka.
Not only does Air Company store carbon in their vodka, but they also make sure that the materials they use have a lowered environmental footprint. "We incorporate the use of sustainable materials wherever possible. Our 100% biodegradable labels are created using vegetable ink on printers that run on renewable energy and use recycled water. They're bound to the bottle using a special, non-toxic tack, allowing them to be easily removed. Our cellulose-based tamper seal is 100% compostable, and we use recycled cardboard to make our boxes. Both the box and the glass bottle were designed to be given a second life beyond their initial use."
The company estimates that they have produced just over 5,000 gallons of Air Vodka to date.
A Promising Start
Despite this innovation, vodka isn't the only way the company stores carbon. They also store atmospheric CO2 in hand sanitizer and perfume.
Further, since the Air Company is one of the first of its kind, it has received notoriety in the form of awards, affiliates, collaborative partners, and financial backing from the likes of NASA, Linde, and Nel. In 2020, after just one year of operation, the Air Company even won NASA's CO2 Conversion Challenge Award for converting CO2 into Sugar.
"The CO2 Conversion Challenge began in 2018 to incentivize the public to recreate an invisible process plants do regularly with a non-biological system," said Monsi Roman, manager of Centennial Challenges. "Despite many obstacles, three teams developed beneficial technologies that could enable humans to create valuable products from the Martian environment."
Air Company came out on top, winning a prize of $50,000 to continue its operations.
Finally, the company’s method of storing carbon in vodka is rather ingenious, as it provides the company with a valuable product while simultaneously being able to support the carbon capture industry. And even though they have only been in business a few years, the Air Company has already made advanced strides that far outpace some of its competitors. Their ability to begin and succeed in their operations in such a short period is a testament to the company's vision, team, and ingenuity.