Biodegradable, Carbon-Negative Straws and Cutlery Could Help Stop Plastic Pollution
Newlight Technologies, a California biotech company, has set its sights on curbing greenhouse gas emissions and marine plastic pollution simultaneously. The startup uses ocean bacteria to create a new material that is made of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and that can replace many single-use plastics and leathers.
Newlight has been exploring ways to make use of greenhouse gas emissions for more than a decade. "AirCarbon," its latest creation, is made with ocean microbes, air and waste greenhouse gases. The new biomaterial, which can be shaped into anything from straws to office chairs to frames for glasses, is durable, completely biodegradable in the ocean and carbon-negative, the company's website explained.
"We asked the question, how can we take carbon that would otherwise go into the air, and turn it into useful materials," Mark Herrema, CEO of Newlight, told Fast Company. "As we looked around nature, we discovered pretty quickly that nature uses greenhouse gas to make materials every day."
Herrema's team found inspiration in nature-based processes that take in methane and carbon dioxide. Researchers honed in on a certain strain of ocean microbes that consume methane as food and produce AirCarbon as a byproduct.
"After they eat that gas, [the microbes] then convert that into a really special material inside themselves," he told Fast Company. "It's a meltable energy storage material, which you can purify and then form into various parts and shapes and pieces."
Newlight replicated the process in land-based production tanks by combining saltwater containing the ocean microorganisms with air and methane from an abandoned coal mine, to create AirCarbon within the bacteria, Esquire reported. Researchers extracted the resultant substance and processed the material into a fine white powder which could be melted and molded into different shapes.
The methane used would otherwise have been emitted into the atmosphere, so the products are helping to sequester the greenhouse gas, Optimist Daily noted. That makes them "carbon-negative," Esquire pointed out, and "every product they create is pollution that didn't end up in the air and water." The products are actually "regenerative" because the production process for AirCarbon captures or destroys more greenhouse gases than it emits, the magazine added. A Newlight press release stated that "for every one kilogram of AirCarbon produced in Newlight's production process using methane seeping from abandoned coal mines, 88 kilograms of CO2e are sequestered."
Because AirCarbon is produced naturally by the microbes, it also decomposes completely and naturally, the way a leaf would on the forest floor, reported Good News Network. Luckily, it won't decompose unless faced with the same type of ocean microorganisms that created it, which means that AirCarbon products are durable, washable and reusable, Esquire noted.
Now, after a decade of refining their research, Newlight's first AirCarbon products are coming to market, Fast Company reported. The company is launching with single-use straws and cutlery, which look and feel like plastic but degrade like paper in ocean water.
In a separate offering, Newlight has also created carbon-negative "leather" made from AirCarbon, which it is turning into wallets and handbags. Unlike natural leather, the material won't peel or crack and doesn't require lots of greenhouse gases in its production; unlike synthetic leather, it can be easily recycled, reported Fast Company. Finally, Newlight will also offer carbon-negative eyewear.
All products will be stamped with a "Carbon Date" that consumers can plug into a website to view how the greenhouse gases in that item moved through the production process, Esquire described. The innovative blockchain technology tracking will also allow consumers to know exactly how much carbon impact their purchase had and which independent third party calculated and certified it, Newlight's website said.
According to the company press release, AirCarbon was named "Biomaterial of the Year" by the Nova Institute and "Innovation of the Year" by Popular Science. The World Economic Forum called Newlight a "Technology Pioneer" and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded Newlight the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award.
According to Esquire, "As you hold each [AirCarbon] product, what you're holding is a chunk of pollution that could have gone into the atmosphere but is instead a fashionable and/or functional product."
- 4 Eco-Friendly Drinking Straw Alternatives So You Can Skip Plastic ... ›
- 5 Sustainable Alternatives to Plastics - EcoWatch ›
- Straws Made of Seaweed Could Replace Their Plastic Nemesis ... ›
- Singapore Will Plant One Million Trees by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
- Australia to Build the World's Largest Solar Farm to Power Singapore ›
- Giant Water Battery Cuts University's Energy Costs by $100 Million ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tara Lohan
In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.
Transmission lines from the Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador. Douglas Spott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Atlantic sturgeon were brought to the brink of extension in the 20th century and are now are listed as an endangered species. NOAA
Near Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the Churchill (Grand) River downstream from Muskrat Falls. Douglas Sprott / CC BY-NC 2.0
Construction of the Site C dam in British Columbia in 2017. Jason Woodhead / CC BY 2.0
The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is the first U.S. offshore wind farm. Dennis Schroeder / NREL / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.
The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›
By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.