Unilever launches first laundry capsule using captured carbon from heavy industry

After pledging to remove all virgin, fossil-based carbon from cleaning and laundry products by 2030, Unilever has successfully developed a laundry capsule using emissions captured from heavy industry.

Image: LanzaTech

Image: LanzaTech

At present, most cleaning and laundry products made by large businesses, including Unilever, contain chemicals made from fossil fuel stocks.  Unilever’s plans for eliminating such materials include sourcing bio-based alternatives and carbon from carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities and from waste material recovery centres, known as purple and grey carbon respectively.

The FMCG giant has this week confirmed success in developing what it claims is the world’s first laundry capsule based on purple carbon.

Carbon to produce the surfactant for the capsules has been captured using LanzaTech CCS arrays, fitted to industrial facilities in Asia. LanzaTech is also responsible for converting the emissions to ethanol at its Beijing Shougang plant.

The ethanol is then sent to India Glycols Ltd for conversion into ethylene oxide, before being sent to Unilever’s Hefei factory in China, where OMO laundry capsules are manufactured. The capsules will soon reach stockists’ shelves in Asia.

LanzaTech has claimed that the process used here generates 82% less life-cycle carbon emissions than the traditional, virgin fossil-fuel-based processes.

“New innovations like this help move our iconic cleaning brands away from fossil fuels without compromising on performance or affordability,” Unilever’s president for home care Peter ter Kulve said. “We’re excited by the potential that this breakthrough represents for future innovations across our portfolio and our industry.”

Carbon building blocks

Research conducted by Unilever in partnership with the Nova Institute has revealed that renewable carbon production will need to grow 15-fold by 2050 if all consumer goods firms are to phase out the use of fossil carbon.

CCS is expected to scale up significantly across the world within that time span, with nations including Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Canada, China and the UK all targeting net-zero or carbon-neutrality. More goals are set to be announced at the Biden Administration’s Earth Day summit this week, including the US’s own 2050 and 2030 goals.

As well as carbon captured from man-made processes, there is also scope to scale up bio-based alternatives. Carbon from marine habitats, like seagrass plains, is called blue carbon. Carbon from terrestrial habitats is known as green. Unilever is working with WWF to help scale these sources without creating unintended negative consequences for biodiversity.

You can find out more about how the scaling processes could work in edie’s recent video interview with Unilever’s Home Care's R&D Director Ian Howell.

Other businesses working to scale captured carbon include L’Oreal (for plastic bottles) and Coty (for perfume ingredients),

Sarah George



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