Technology

This start-up makes vodka out of CO2 emissions, and it's backed by Toyota and JetBlue


At Bathtub Gin, a reinvented speakeasy in lower Manhattan, patrons may be pining for the past but they are drinking a vodka specifically invented for a cleaner future. Air Vodka is made in part from greenhouse gas emissions – specifically, captured carbon dioxide.

It is just one of a bevy of new products designed to make use of CO2 emissions that can be captured from various types of industry.

“We work with partners that capture that carbon dioxide before it’s emitted into the atmosphere, and then we use that CO2 in our process in creating the alcohols that we create,” said Gregory Constantine, Co-founder and CEO of Air Company, which is also producing perfume and hand sanitizer from those emissions. “It’s obviously far better for the planet in that we’re removing CO2 for every bottle that we’re creating.”

Distilling alcohol the old fashioned way not only releases its emissions, but it uses a lot of water — about 35 liters of water to make one liter of distillate. Air Vodka is made of just two ingredients, CO2 and water. It separates hydrogen out of the water through electrolysis, releasing the oxygen. The hydrogen is then fed into a “carbon conversion reactor” system with the captured CO2. That creates ethanol which, when combined with water, becomes a type of vodka.

The scientific process in the Air Company’s laboratories is valuable to the environment, but the results are not cheap. The three-year-old start-up’s vodka is a luxury brand, costing about $65 bottle. But at Bathtub Gin, the vodka is getting high praise.

A bartender pours a jigger of Air Vodka, a spirit made of CO2 emissions.

Nathaniel Lee | CNBC

“Once we tell them, ‘hey, this is how it’s made and it’s got a negative carbon footprint, all those really beautiful things, is what happens to make them want it even more. And then they go looking for [it[, going, ‘where can we get it?'” said Brendan Bartley, beverage director and head bartender at Bathtub Gin.

The company’s sights are set beyond just vodka and perfume. Constantine said he expects to offer new products made of CO2 as it opens its third production facility.

“Vodka for us is really a gateway towards all the other products and then the industrial applications of where our technology can go,” he said.

Carbon capture is fast becoming big business, as companies look not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to keep necessary emissions from getting into the atmosphere. Captured carbon is being used to make everything from vodka to eyeglasses, laundry detergent, Coca Cola and even jet fuel.

The Air Company is backed by Toyota Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Parley for the Oceans and Carbon Direct Capital Management. It has raised just over $40 million to date.

 



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