Unilever makes green hydrogen breakthrough in push for fossil-free laundry products

As Unilever works to eliminate all carbon derived from virgin fossil fuels from its laundry and cleaning products by 2030, it has signed an agreement to procure low-carbon soda ash to reduce the footprint of its laundry powder.

Unilever makes green hydrogen breakthrough in push for fossil-free laundry products

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant has been collaborating in India with chemical firms TFL and Fertiglobe to reduce the emissions associated with soda ash production. Soda ash is a key ingredient in laundry powder and one of the ten most-used chemical compounds in the world.

Collaboratively, these three firms have developed and proven a soda ash manufacturing process that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60%.

The process involves producing ammonia using green hydrogen rather than fossil fuels. This ammonia is then added to other ingredients and heated using boilers which previously used to run on coal and now run on biomass, namely waste products from cashew nut production.

A man-made carbon capture array is fitted to the boilers, preventing an undisclosed proportion of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere. The captured carbon can be used in Unilever’s laundry product manufacturing process, replacing CO2 that would otherwise have to be procured.

Piloting this process has resulted in enough low-emission soda ash for Unilever to produce some 6,000 tonnes of laundry powder. The business has now signed an agreement with TFL to continue sourcing the innovatively produced soda ash beyond the pilot.

Fertiglobe and OCI Global’s chief executive Ahmed El-Hoshy said: “This exciting development is at the forefront of the home care industry’s utilising green ammonia as an emerging decarbonisation tool. This is one of the first examples of how it can be used to reduce CO2 emissions for an established industrial process.”

Unilever notably pledged in 2020 to replace all virgin fossil-derived carbon in its laundry and cleaning products with captured, natural and recycled alternatives within a decade. This feeds in to an overarching 2050 net-zero plan.

Since announcing its 2030 vision, Unilever has launched laundry capsules incorporating mainly carbon derived from plant sources in Europe, and trialled its first laundry capsule incorporating captured carbon in Asia. Carbon to produce these capsules was captured at industrial plants in Asia, using technologies provided by LanzaTech.

Unilever is also working with competitors including Proctor & Gamble and Reckitt through the Society of Chemical Industry’s ‘Flue2Chem’ workstream. This is a collaboration on scaling the use of captured carbon in products.

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