Unilever develops detergent capsules made from recycled carbon emissions

Did you know that your laundry detergent is most likely made from fossil fuels? The key ingredients that produce foam and do away with dirt are called surfactants, which are derived from petroleum. Surfactants are also found in other cleaning products such as dish soap.

Fortunately, multinational consumer goods company Unilever has developed a new laundry capsule that will use surfactants made from recycled carbon emissions instead of petroleum. The laundry capsules will first be available in China under their Omo brand.

Unilever presents these laundry capsules in partnership with green chemical company India Glycols and biotech company LanzaTech. The recycled carbon emissions are sourced from one of LanzaTech’s commercial steel mills that has already used its carbon recycling process to turn industry emissions into jet fuel and alcohol for fragrances.

To make laundry detergent, LanzaTech captures waste emissions and turns them into ethanol through a bioreactor where bacteria eat the emissions. India Glycols takes over from there by turning the ethanol into ethylene oxide, a feedstock to make surfactants.

The beauty of this endeavor is that it has a dual environmental impact. It evades the use of fossil fuels while also preventing unnecessary carbon emissions from being released into the air. This collaboration is part of Unilever’s Clean Future program, an initiative that aims to eliminate fossil-fuel-based chemicals from all of Unilever’s cleaning and laundry products by 2030.

The company hopes that shifting away from petrochemicals that are derived from fossil fuels to chemicals that are made from plastic waste, plants, or recycled carbon, will reduce the carbon footprint of its cleaning products by at least 20 percent.

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