A pair of entrepreneurs from New York has created a green vodka that is made from carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere.
OK, it might not turn you into superman – well, unless you swallow enough of it – but this might just be the drink to sip if you want to save the world.
A pair of New York entrepreneurs have used the latest technology to create a vodka out of carbon recaptured from the atmosphere.
Not only is Air Company’s vodka carbon-negative – in fact, it is the only carbon negative vodka anywhere in the world – but each bottle produced reduces carbon in the air by around one pound in the imperial scale or 500 grams in metric, or about the same amount of carbon absorbed by eight fully grown trees in a single day.
This small start-up company has been doing business since late last year and during the past seven months or so they have made a lot of vodka. At the same time, they have also removed about 150 kilograms of carbon from the environment.
In a world where greenhouse emissions are only having an adverse effect, and that’s a very good thing. It is also a prime example of an emerging wave of technology that may in the future help mankind turn around the dire impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our technology uses carbon dioxide and water along with electricity to create alcohol,” says Stafford Sheehan, an electrochemist and cofounder of the start-up, which launched the product in a handful of bars, restaurants, and retailers in New York City from a small distillery in Brooklyn.
“That’s inspired by photosynthesis in nature, where plants breathe in CO2. They take up water, and they use energy in the form of sunlight to make things like sugars and to make other higher-value hydrocarbons, with oxygen as the sole by-product. Same thing with our process: the only by-product is oxygen. We do that in a reactor with a special catalyst and that’s kind of our secret sauce.”
The combination makes alcohol and water. The final step is to remove the water through distillation. The whole process, including the still, runs on solar power “so the overall lifecycle carbon intensity of all the energy that we use is minimized, and in the end, we get a product that is net carbon negative.”
Here are some astonishing stats about this tipple to topple global warming. A typical bottle of traditionally manufactured vodka, usually made by the fermentation of grains or other organics, produces about six kilograms of carbon emissions.
To be precise (and just a little nerdy), a counter on the company website calculates that their production removes 1 millilitre of carbon every 4-5 seconds. They have just rolled past their 80 millionth millilitre of carbon captured and consumed.
The vodka, the company says, is also purer than vodka made traditionally from yeast, since fermentation creates impurities like methanols and carbolic acids that can be difficult to remove through distillation. “Air Co’s process circumvents the production of these impurities entirely, by connecting two carbon dioxide molecules together—’building up’ to produce ethanol, rather than breaking down larger molecules that produce a wash with high impurity content,” says the company’s CEO and co-founder Greg Constantine.
The process is related to technology that others are using to turn CO2 into fuel and other useful products.
For example, there’s a Finnish start-up making protein powder out of carbon. There is a company in California about to start making concrete out of carbon captured from the emissions of a coal-fired power plant. There is a company in San Francisco working on a sustainable replacement for palm oil created from carbon. And there is even a team of Australian scientists turning carbon back into coal.
The Air Co boys plan to open more distilleries in other parts of the country. “The benefit of this technology is it is extremely modular,” says Greg Constantine. “What we’re able to fit in a 500- to 1,000-square-foot space, traditional alcohol production methods and distilleries would need football fields and football fields of corn and irrigation. We can do that in a very metropolitan area, and that allows us to potentially displace transportation by placing these, hopefully, around the country.”
And then, who knows? The world’s their oyster – perhaps with a vodka shot on the side.