You might not know it, but you’re likely washing your clothes with ingredients made from fossil fuels But soon, you’ll be able to stop and do your laundry with a detergent made from recycled carbon emissions instead. While many surfactants—a key ingredient in detergents, which creates foam and allows dirt to be washed away—are derived from petroleum, a new laundry capsule from Unilever, which initially will be available in stores in China, uses surfactants made from captured industrial emissions.
The laundry capsules, available through the brand Omo and launching in China April 22, result from a partnership between Unilever, biotech company LanzaTech, and green chemical company India Glycols. LanzaTech, which has a commercial plant running in China that turns carbon emissions from a steel mill into ethanol, has already used its carbon recycling process to turn those emissions into jet fuel and alcohol for fragrances.
For these laundry detergents, LanzaTech will capture waste emissions and turn them into ethanol through a bioreactor in which bacteria eat those emissions, and then India Glycols will take that ethanol and turn it into ethylene oxide, a feedstock to make surfactants. Unilever says it’s the first time a surfactant made from captured carbon emissions will come to market in a cleaning product (surfactants are also used in cleaners such as dish soap).