Athletic apparel retailer Lululemon (stylized as “lululemon”) has partnered with biotech company LanzaTech to develop fabric and yarn using emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Though the material is similar to Lululemon’s proprietary fabric used in its high-end yoga pants, the polyester in the new fabric is derived from ethanol produced by pollution-eating microorganisms.
Push for a circular economy
New Zealand-based LanzaTech is dedicated to converting carbon emissions into useful products like fuel. Through nature-based solutions, it generates ethanol from waste carbon sources. Along with chemical partner India Glycols and textile manufacturer Far Eastern New Century (FENC), the biotech is transforming ethanol into sustainable polyester.
Generally, industrial emissions are combusted and released as GHGS, and the particulate emissions are dangerous for humans as well as the environment.
By capturing the carbon before it is emitted and recycling the emissions, carbon stays in the ground thus limiting pollution and the use of fossil fuels to produce polyester. As a result, the products too will have a lower carbon footprint, crucial not only for Lululemon but for the entire apparel industry.
“We must radically change how we source, utilize and dispose of carbon,” CEO of LanzaTech, Jennifer Holmgren said in a statement. “Carbon recycling enables companies like Lululemon to continue to move away from virgin fossil resources, bring circularity to their products, and achieve their climate change goals around carbon reduction. We call this being ‘CarbonSmart.’”
Role of fermentation
The company sources carbon from several different kinds of feedstocks like industrial emissions, syngas, gasified agricultural or household waste (including textile waste), and atmospheric CO2. Through special microorganisms, the gas stream is fermented into ethanol or other chemicals. Though the process is similar to conventional fermentation, it excludes sugars and yeasts, and instead uses carbon derived from waste gases and microorganisms.
In the past, LanzaTech has used recycled carbon emissions across the airline and home care industries. For instance, it has worked with multinational consumer goods giant Unilever to create a cleaning ingredient(surfactant) from recycled carbon waste, thus slashing GHGs by 82% compared to its traditional cleaning agent.
Traditionally, the textile industry uses polyester fibre that is derived from petroleum-based feedstock.
However, Lululemon aims to ditch the use of fossil fuels by opting for sustainable alternatives. For this purpose, LanzaTech is creating a FENC®TOPGREEN®Bio3-PET fibre developed from ethanol. India Glycols transforms the ethanol to monoethylene glycol (MEG), a chemical normally derived from fossil fuels and FENC uses MEG to make the polyester.
According to the company, this alternative polyester looks just like its traditional counterpart along with having similar functions and properties.
In addition, once these products reach the end of their lifecycle, they can be gasified and fermented with LanzaTech thus promoting a circular economy and storing the carbon in the material cycle itself.
Dr Fanny Liao, EVP of RD & BD, FENC said, “Since initially connecting LanzaTech’s Taiwanese joint-venture set up with a pilot plant in Taiwan, I believed this waste-gas-based polyester formation would be a sustainable solution for the polyester industry. We are happy to team up with IGL and Lululemon to complete the supply chain for this historical project and continue working with LanzaTech towards our common goal for a better Earth.”
For now, the process costs more than making polyester from fossil fuels as an extra step is added by taking ethanol to ethylene. To address this, the partners are working on a new process to transform the gas directly to MEG, making it cost-effective.
Lululemon aims for 100% sustainable materials goal
Back in October of last year, Lululemon outlined several strategies in its first Impact Agenda to deal with urgent social and environmental issues. The new partnership with LanzaTech is part of its 12 goals to achieve a circular ecosystem.
Chief supply chain officer of Lululemon, Ted Dagnese said, “Lululemon is committed to making products that are better in every way – building a healthier future for ourselves, for our communities, and for our planet. We know sustainable innovation will play a key role in the future of retail and apparel, and we are excited to be at the forefront of an innovative technology. Our partnership with LanzaTech will help Lululemon deliver on our Impact Agenda goals to make 100% of our products with sustainable materials and end-of-use solutions, moving us toward a circular ecosystem by 2030.”
In the past, Lululemon launched the world’s first yoga mat and bags created from mushroom-based vegan leather. Some of its sustainable initiatives include its Earth Dye product capsule featuring earth-friendly dyes upcycled from the waste of oranges and beets, and a Like New re-commerce program encouraging resale and recycling of used products.