Unilever introduces detergent made from captured carbon

Multinational consumer goods firm Unilever is now selling a laundry detergent product made with a surfactant manufactured from carbon captured from industrial emissions.

The OMO capsules have been on the Chinese market since Thursday last week, Earth Day, and come at no extra cost to the consumer. It is the first time that such a product has been introduced.

The carbon is captured at a steel mill operated by the Shougang Group, a Chinese iron and steel producer, using carbon recycling firm LanzaTech’s technology to convert it into ethanol. Running since late 2018, more than 34 million litres of ethanol was produced in its first year of operation. The process is 82% less carbon intensive than the conventional fossil-fuel process, according to LanzaTech.

The ethanol is then shipped to India, where India Glycols (which describes itself as the “only green petrochemical company of its kind”) converts it into ethylene oxide, a hazardous industrial intermediate chemical used to make a wide variety of consumer products, from antifreeze to plastics.

The chemical is then shipped back to China, where Unilever’s factory in Hefei, 1000km south of Beijing, converts it into surfactant for the capsules.

OMO capsules are branded as Persil in the UK and in some other countries.

The initiative is part of Unilever’s ‘Clean Future Strategy’, aiming to entirely eliminate chemicals derived from fossil fuels from its cleaning and laundry products by 2030. It plans to do this through a number of routes, recovering CO2 directly from the air, from marine sources, from plants and from plastic waste, all being powered from renewable energy.

Peter ter Kulve, president of home care at Unilever said: “Advancements in technology like this mean we can now reinvent the chemistry of our products. Instead of valuable carbon being released directly into the atmosphere, we can capture it and recycle it in our products instead of using fossil fuels.”

The firm says that production of renewable carbon will have to rise by a factor of 15 by 2050 in order to phase-out the use of fossil-derived carbon from consumer products.

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